Screened as part of NZIFF 2001

Blackboards 2000

Takhte siah

Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

Iran / Italy / Japan In Kurdish with English subtitles
84 minutes 35mm


Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marco Müller

Executive Producer

Mohamad Ahmadi


Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Samira Makhmalbaf


Ebrahim Ghafori


Mohsen Makhmalbaf


Behroz Shahamat


Monamed Reza Darvishi


Bahman Ghobadi (Reeboir)
Said Mohamadi (Said)
Behnaz Jafari (Halaleh)


Grand Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2000


Can there be a more remarkable or precocious talent in world cinema than Samira Makhmalbaf? She is the young Iranian director who has followed up her much-admired début The Apple with this jewel of a film which carves out its narrative from the materials both of contemporary history and timeless fable.

And today Makhmalbaf is still six weeks shy of her 21st birthday. As it happens, this movie is something of a family effort, the script being co-written by her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who also edits. But there can be no doubt that this is genuinely Samira Makhmalbaf’s film…

Blackboards uses the unforgiving mountain landscape near the Iran-Iraq border as the backdrop for a faintly surreal human tragicomedy, at first baffling, then diverting, then deeply engaging. A group of men trudge wearily but uncomplainingly up the fierce slopes, each carrying a blackboard. They are itinerant teachers searching for a village with children to teach – a curious comic invention Makhmalbaf makes effortlessly persuasive. The men look like strange crows with their great black rectangles across their shoulders, and together make a spectacle which is like an art installation…

What is so striking about Blackboardsis Makhmalbaf’s unmediated access to a kind of timeless past: not to an innocence exactly, but to a culture stripped of all the encumbrances of modernity. There is, at one stage, the off-camera sound of a helicopter and later, the nomads run terrified from what they think is a chemical weapons attack but turns out to be simply rifle fire. These two events aside – and even they are never shown on screen – we could be witnessing something happening any time in the last millennium.

The teachers here are like troubadours, or shepherds, with no more status than anyone else on the mountain. Their simple quest for pupils, with no qualifications other than the heavy blackboard, seems to show a naivety hardly more clouded than the children they meet…

In its stoic acceptance of chance encounters and random events, Blackboards offers us a ludic innocence and a child-like seriousness, in which Makhmalbaf shows herself as having something of a Lewis Carroll sensibility – yet what she inhabits here is not Wonderland, but the grim political world of Kurdistan, in which the questions of genocide and indeed our own uncertain Western intervention rumble faintly beyond the mountain horizon. — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 29/12/00