Abbas Kiarostami and Amir Reza Koohestani’s Inspiration for Hearing
©︎Amir Hossein Shojaei
Amir Reza Koohestani’s Inspiration for Hearing
A while ago, when I was watching Kiarostami’s film Homework for the second or third time, I found the kids’ reactions to the filmmaker’s simple questions strange. They seemed stunned to be asked ‘What does being encouraged mean?’ or ‘Did you do your homework?’ and stared openmouthed at the ceiling or the camera. I’m not one to judge these kids’ mental health, but it’s obvious that today, if a child was so terrorised at the simple thought of being left alone in a room with a film crew that they started to cry or asked to leave or for the door to be left open, you’d take them to a see a psychiatrist or therapist. At the time though, in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war, people’s only worry was to survive and escape unscathed from the continuous bombing by Saddam Hussein’s army. Only a Kiarostami then could think about the mental and psychological well-being of the youngest. I learned later that one of the children was Kiarostami’s own son, Bahman. And I remember that the first time we met, when he learned that I was born in 1978, he pointed out that I was the same age as his son. So those kids could also have represented me. No doubt I was like them — if not worse. How could I now find myself in the pose of an intellectual with things to say about the state of his country and the world, having been such a lost and distraught child? I drew inspiration from Homework to try to discern beneath the adult Samaneh the terrorised adolescent fidgeting nonstop with her headscarf.
Amir Reza Koohestani
Abbas Kiarostami and Films About Children
It has been three years since Abbas Kiarostami passed away. I recall interviewing him in the Autumn of 1992 on his first visit to Japan, and meeting him the times he came to Japan after that. Kiarostami became famous in our country with the screening of Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), and Life, and Nothing More… (1992). With his last film Like Someone in Love (2012) which was shot in Japan, our country had a deep connection with him.
Kiarostami’s debut film was The Bread and Alley (1970). It is a short film about a boy being blocked by a large dog on his way home from an errand. We see that many of his films in the 1970–80’s are films about children, and this is because the films were produced by the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. These films about children were also able to slip through the censorship of the Iranian film industry after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Kiarostami became internationally known as an Iranian Director with Where Is the Friend’s Home?.
Homework (1989) was shot after Where Is the Friend’s Home. Here he points the camera towards various children on their way to school in the city of Tehran, asking “Did you do your homework?” Next is an assembly at a primary school, showing the children repeat “Allah is the Greatest” after their teacher. It was at the end of the Iran-Iraq War that begun in the 80’s; there were also recitals critisising Iraq’s Hussein.
The scene that follows is of the director interviewing the children one by one in a classroom. Many topics arise – questions to the children, there being too much homework, that there are many illiterate parents who do not understand the homework, that they have chores to do at home. There are some children who don’t know the meaning of “reward”, even if they know what “punishment” means.
In Iran, education is separated between boys and girls from primary to secondary education, and all the children who appeared in these interviews were boys. There is a scene where a middle-aged man, one of the parents, makes an appearance and talks about Iranian education depriving their children of creativity compared to foreign countries. He talks about changes and the negative effects of the Iranian education system, sneaking the audience a view of the complicated social situation 10 years post-Islamic revolution. The film returns to the assembly scene and ends.
In the first scene in the city, the director states that he does not know whether this will become fiction or documentary. At a glance, Homework looks like a documentary researching the reality of school education. There are scenes where the director appears on screen, and even shows the camera. However, Kiarostami is not a simple filmmaker. In Closeup (1990), following Homework, he asks a young man who was arrested for assuming the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, to replay his actions. It is safe to interpret that Homework was also staged. For example, it is thought that the middle-aged man who makes a sudden appearance was directed.
To Kiarostami, a film is a film. What makes his films interesting, is being able to peek into the reality of the Iranian society through the border between fiction and non-fiction, the gap between the true and false.
Film researcher. Translated and co-written works include Histoire du cinema by Georges Sadoul (12 volumes, Kokushokankokai), Japanese Cinema and Modernism (Libroport) and Film Theory Compilation (Film Art Inc.).