The House Is Black is a poetic documentary classic from 1962 all about social isolation and illness and their disproportionate effects on the dispossessed
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In the autumn of 1962, the celebrated Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad made what would be her first and last film. Regarded as a precursor to the Iranian new wave and now considered a classic, The House Is Black is a documentary about the members of a leper colony near the city of Tabriz in northwest Iran. Despite having been filmed nearly 60 years ago, and focusing on a small group of people suffering from a particular condition, it has found new relevance in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, having much to say not only about the current situation in Iran but also to those in self-isolation and/or suffering, regardless of location.
Farrokhzad’s short film is anything but an easy watch. Ebrahim Golestan, its producer (who was in a secret relationship with Farrokhzad at the time) states this explicitly at the start. “On this screen,” he says, “will appear an image of ugliness, a vision of pain no caring human being should ignore.” This echoes the sentiments of the poet Sa’di of Shiraz, who in the 13th century famously declared: “You who are indifferent to the misery of others cannot be called a human being.”