"Mashgh-e Shab" by Abbas Kiarostami
posted by: Tone Hansen
The documentary "Mashgh-e Shab" ("Homework", Iran 1989, 86 min.) by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was part of the first scenario curated by Ane Hjort Guttu and Tone Hansen.
“Mashgh-e Shab” consists primarily of a series of interviews with Iranian schoolboys between the ages of seven and eight, and with some of their parents. The children were selected for not having done their homework on the relevant day. The film director himself asks the questions, and occasionally we get a glimpse of him as a threatening figure wearing dark glasses. He asks the boys why they have not done their homework. Their answers reveal that there wasn’t enough time, that there was no one to help them, or that the living room was too noisy throughout the evening.
The next question is: “What do you like doing best, watching cartoons on TV or doing your homework?” Surprisingly, the boys answer the latter. The film is about restrictions to freedom, lies and oppression. The boys have learnt to give the answers that are expected of them. They have consistently been brought up to fear sanctions and are barely able to articulate their real wants.
The interviewer asks them repeatedly about punishment, whether and how often they are punished, and in what ways, etc. “Mashgh-e Shab” is a brutal film; the interviewer interrogates his subjects ruthlessly, and at times the children’s faces and reactions are heartrending. The film contains another important element – shots of assembly in the schoolyard before and during school hours. This ritual consists in part of prayers and songs, in part of whipping up hatred for Iraq. Although the children show great concentration, their attention soon slips until they end up cautiously chatting or playing during the chanting of a religious hymn. Finally, the director chooses to replace the sound of the scene with the following voiceover: “In spite of the great care taken by the authorities to ensure a propper running of the ceremony, due to the children’s mischievous manner and lack of comprehension it was performed inappropriately. Out of respect for the ritual, we opted to delete the sound from this section of the film." We are left to watch the remainder of the ceremony, the living mass of children, in silence.
posted by Tone Hansen