An impressive, engaging, interesting and, most importantly, balanced documentary/drama
After twelve years, the neighbours of the Naderi family in Tehran write to Social Services to raise awareness and seek help with the family. The family is made up of an old man, his blind wife and his twin daughters, who he keeps locked in the house and has done for the twelve years of their lives. The parents claim they were only protecting their children but the papers tell stories of children chained up and kept like animals. The film crew watch on as the parents and children come to terms with this new, enforced freedom.
Whenever director Samira Makhmalbaf heard about the story of the Naderi family she decided to make a film about it two or three days later this film began, using film stock left over from her father's most recent film. Several weeks later the film was complete and the final product is a startingly assured product that is engaging, impressive and very balanced. I'm not sure what specifically attracted Makhmalbaf to the story but she has managed to bring so much out of it that I imagine she saw a lot of themes worth exploring in the original article she read. The film follows the real people as they all try to come to terms with this new world the blind wife who fears for her girls; the father who is only following teaching on raising girl and wants to protect them; and of course the girls who quickly go from barely being able to communicate to running and playing outside. On this very human level it is a compelling film that mixes documentary and drama to good effect and you easily care for the people.
A scan of the plot may see your mind made up about the cruel Iranian father and the poor oppressed wife and girls, however to do this is a mistake because the film never does this, not once. The film looks at the people but it also looks at the view of society on women and the attitudes involved; it would be easy to just slate the religious, comparatively oppressive approach of such religious states but the film is too good for that. Instead it takes a balanced view that weighs up both views and doesn't judge anyone. By doing this the film is only stronger and more interesting because it comes over as a debate that engaged my brain in that aspect just as much as it engaged me with the people in the story.
The cast are almost all the real people "playing" their roles in front of the camera as they really happen; I'm sure some of it were staged reconstructions but mostly it convinces as the real deal happening as we watch. The father is compelling and the film's balance is evident in that it allows him to be confused and bewildered about the accusations against him. The wife is well presented as well confounding those who will have tuned in to see a cruel man oppressing the women in his life. The twin girls are easy to like and they are the human aspect of the story come (literally) to life their development is touching and engaging.
Overall this is an excellent mix of documentary and drama that works on many levels. It is a human story that is touching but also works on other levels, being a thoughtful and balanced look at Iranian society, the restraints on people and on women generally. Without judging, it builds an interesting debate that produces a strong film that is well worth seeking out.
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