A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


Double Feature

Kiarostami at MOMA. Go now. The retrospective ends in a few days. Also, FREE for Columbia folks. Amazing. I saw two films tonight and had only intended to see the first. I was so mesmerized I could not leave and had to stay for the second film. More on Kiarostami here.

Here are the two I saw w/ their attending descriptions:

Avali ha (First-Graders). 1984. An investigation into the education of pupils in one of Tehran's poorest school districts, the film follows first-graders from the start of their school lives. Small but significant gestures between the students reveal the world of children at school—and most scenes, tellingly, take place in either the schoolyard or the principal's office.

Mashq-e shab (Homework)
. 1989. By including his own role as cinematic interrogator, Kiarostami has created a multilayered documentary that not only gives a picture of education and children's home life in Iran, but also encompasses a questioning of cinema's role and of its potential for manipulation. By interviewing several children and exploring the way they deal with homework, the film reveals their lack of stimulation and exposes the fear and dread that grown-ups can inspire in children's lives.

Here's what I experienced (besides 3 hours where I could not take my eyes off the screen):

First-Graders is so moving. It's all about getting into trouble, lying about what you did wrong, apologizing, and promising to be a good boy. My favorite scene was watching a couple of the little boys explain the spitting game to the principal. But the principal's office is just one context for learning about this boys and the nature of school. The other context is the school yard, a recess-like setting, where the boys must stand equal distance from one other so that they can jump around and move in place, doing simple aerobics. The schoolyard is also the place where boys were honored for good behavior: standing straight, forgiving someone who did not apologize. One thing that sticks with me is the principal's continued words of asking the young boys to speak up, to say their names louder and with more confidence.

Homework is the one that got me. Tears and all. Kiarostami begins by calling the film research, an experiment, rooting it his own experiences helping his son with his homework. Through interviews with boys (1st or 2nd grade) and surveys sent home to parents, Kiarostami paints a picture of homework as a family issue, often a painful one. The boys answer his questions on who helps them with their homework, punishment or encouragement for doing homework, timing of doing homework (in relation to what's on TV--news or cartoons?!), and then brings in the voices of a few parents. Many of the boys say that they like their homework more than cartoons. The looks on their faces when they talk about each tell a different story. What is most important about this film is the questions it raises about family literacy levels (who is qualified to help with homework? if not parents, siblings? neighbors?) and also about the power struggles and frustrations doing homework causes in many households (parents must enforce the task even if they don't understand or agree with it). A parent interviewed describes a picture of education he'd like to see. It involves very little homework if any. And in school kids are engaged in creative activities and use technology, rather than doing dictation or writing and rewriting tasks to improve their handwriting. He thinks that schools in America are creative, innovative places where kids use lots of technology. He thought this in the late 80s.


At 12:57 AM, Blogger lmv said...

so glad you posted this! i missed all the good stuff, so thank goodness for home delivery dvds :)


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