REVIEW: DVD Release: The Apple

Film: The Apple
Release date: 7th June 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 84 mins
Director: Samira Makhmalbaf
Starring: Massoumeh Naderi, Zahra Naderi, Ghorbanali Naderi
Genre: Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: Iran/France

Filmed by director Samira Makhmalbaf when she was just 17 years old, The Apple went on to become one of the most important films in the burgeoning Iranian New Wave, enjoying critical acclaim and award recognition.

Massoumeh and Zahra are two girls who are freed from imprisonment after the surrounding community decides to take a stand against their father, Ghorban, and his wife. The film opens with the writing of a letter, signed by various neighbours, informing social services that a husband and wife have forbidden their two daughters from leaving their house for eleven years.

A female social worker confronts the father of the two girls, and indirectly informs the audience that the girls have neither been to school nor bathed in years. Ghorban, although clearly upset about the whole affair, pleads to be excused, as his wife is blind and he believes he had no choice but to lock the girls up for their own safety. The social worker agrees to let the children return home, provided they are properly cared for, and are allowed to go to school and play with other children.

After some hesitance and stubbornness on the part of the two parents, the girls are finally allowed to leave the confines of the house and explore the city and its inhabitants for themselves. As the girls undertake this journey of discovery, the father and mother are left to self contemplation, and must come to terms with the dishonour placed upon their family by both themselves and what they see as exaggerated reports in the media…

One of the main aspects of this film is the documentary style in which it is shot. The Apple opens with the freeing of the two girls and the arguments that take place between social worker and family regarding the girls’ right to a childhood. The raw, camcorder like section of this scene is purported to be actual footage of their release, but whether or not this is true, it nevertheless opens the film dramatically and concisely, placing us right in the middle of the chaos.

This realism stays with the viewer for the rest of the film, even when it reverts back to movie quality. Often scenes between the father and the social worker are like unedited interviews, and the way in which their father attempts to lift the blame from himself and onto his wife is, at times, heartbreaking, whilst at others simply pathetic.

It is the sense of community, however, which relieves The Apple from becoming a scathing or harrowing film depicting the treatment of women in an oppressive regime. What in fact comes through, with a well placed sense of subtlety, is the universal sense of community which the girls, and indeed the family have been missing. At one stage, the social worker turns to the girls’ blind mother and comments that she too should be connecting with neighbours and friends and enjoying life. Indeed, the film manages to get a cross the sense that by imprisoning their daughters, they are also imprisoning themselves.

The journey the two girls go on is, at times, difficult. Despite the kindness from the surrounding community, they must learn how to deal with teasing but good hearted young boys, and how to play, share and interact with other girls their age. What really shines through, however, is the girls’ total innocence and introversion. Still barely able to communicate, they often shy away from telling people their name, and it is apparent that without the effort and generosity on the part of their fellow citizens, the freedom which social services gives them simply would not be enough. By being allowed to wander off on their own, they are embraced by a community and a culture which looks out for its fellow human beings.

Their father and mother, however, are left alone to contemplate what they have done. When the social worker locks Ghorban behind the same bars behind which the girls were locked, his only option is to saw through them or break the lock, both freeing himself and dismantling the system behind which he imprisoned his daughters. This stern but well meaning punishment dealt out by the strong and decisive female social worker demonstrates how she becomes a symbol for authority and justice within the community.

A film like this could have perhaps shown that two girls cannot remain safe outdoors, and could have ended by showing that the parents were right to keep them safe from the outside world. But The Apple leaves the audience with a sense of pride at the good nature of many human beings, and the importance of the community in which we live.

At times upsetting, but mostly filled with happiness and innocence, The Apple is a stunning film which reminds us that it is more often than not the person imprisoning, and not the person imprisoned, who has done the most harm. IT

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