The Apple, another slight and offhandedly poetic film from Iran, is the true story of a pair of 12-year-old twin sisters who have been kept imprisoned in their home in a poor section of Teheran. Part docudrama and part therapeutic acting out, the film features the actual twins and their actual parents. Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, the 17-year-old daughter of filmmaker Moshen Makhmalbaf (best known in the West for his elegant fable Gabbeh), it has the earmark obliqueness of so much of the new Iranian cinema – that sense of a social critique very cautiously offered – with much of its muckraking intent codified into the contentious personalities of its protagonists.
The twins’ parents are shown not to be the heartless ogres that one would expect, but rather as maladjusted relics of an old order. The mother is blind and keeps her face as well as her head covered, hobbling around the family hovel all day muttering to herself in Turkish when not tongue-lashing her husband, who apparently can do no right. The father, who has the perpetually pained expression of a small-time Job, sees himself as more sinned against than sinning and offers the defense that he was merely protecting his daughters from the rancid influence of other children, boys in particular. With the knotted logic of the true fundamentalist, he’s determined to keep them pure, even as he horribly stunts their emotional and mental growth.
The film opens with the local welfare office intervening and the family being assigned a social worker. When the father fails to deliver on his promise to let the girls play in the street with other children, the social worker locks the father in the house and lets the twins loose to roam freely.
Since they can barely speak and have the social skills of cantankerous 3-year-olds, this seems a little rash. But it’s the scenes of the pair’s faltering encounters with their peers, unsentimental but encouraging, which give the film its oddly beguiling quality.
Meanwhile, dad is trying to saw his way to freedom, grinding away at the bars of his front gate with a pathetic little hacksaw. Only in Iran, one would hope.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.