The House is Black

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

In which the commercial feature film finally crumbles into superfluity and irrelevance. How can one think of box office or the fickle fan in the face of such awe-inspiration? You certainly can’t imagine Farrokhzad caring about such trivialities. That’s for cultural and historical reasons, but not only. Her view here is unflinching and empathetic, her method is bold and express-train irresistible. Maybe a train is the wrong analogy. A mountain? As with the entire career of, say, Colin Low, this suggests that we’ve all had it all wrong, for the whole time.

The House is Black is about an Iranian leper colony. It is equally, confidently an activist documentary and an art-cinematic, poetical prayer. Form and content are in perfect, classical balance. The facts of the case are captured with utter sharpness and clarity, while the unique organizing sensibility—wrote, directed, and edited!—shapes and elaborates in ways that are positively dizzying. It’s visually reminiscent of Sergei Eisenstein (Old and New, for instance) and later Welles (The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, maybe a bit of It’s All True). But with regard to the poetry (a challenge for the Westerner), as well as the seeming performances, the blazing authenticities that Farrokhzad gets out of these social actors, this film is reminiscent of nothing and nobody. It’s not a pity that she never made a feature film, because this bears no resemblance to the feature film world. It’s certainly regrettable that she died so early—of course—and that she was never able to give us something more in this unique voice. But might this movie be like Wuthering Heights, or Black Beauty, or To Kill a Mockingbird? Apologies to Charles Laughton and Marlon Brando—this is surely the greatest film ever made by a person that never went on to make another.