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Film / The House Is Black

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"There is no shortage of ugliness in the world. If man closed his eyes to it, there would be even more."
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The House Is Black is a 1963 Iranian documentary short film (22 minutes) by Forough Farrokhzad.

It is a portrait of life in the Bababaghi Hospice leper colony in Iran. Farrokhzad's cameras show people with a range of horrible disfigurements due to leprosy: faces like masks, missing noses, hands and feet that have been rotted away by the disease. Yet it also shows the people of Bababaghi going about everyday activities, like going to school, playing games, even going to a wedding, living lives of dignity.

Farrokhazad was a woman poet whose feminist writing was controversial in her lifetime and was latter banned after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The House Is Black was the only movie she directed before her untimely death in a car wreck in 1967 at the age of 32.


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Tropes:

  • As the Good Book Says...: Farrokhzad quotes from both the Koran and the Old Testament.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Most of the residents of the colony are barefoot. The male narrator notes that poverty tends to exacerbate the spread of leprosy.
  • Body Horror: An unflinching Real Life portrait. A man smoking a cigarette who lost his nose to leprosy blows smoke through the hole in his face.
  • Documentary: Of life in a leper colony.
  • Door Closes Ending: Almost. Near the end of the film there's a very symbolic shot of the people of the colony closing a gate that has "Leper Colony" written on it. But that's only the next-to-last shot, followed by a final scene in the classroom. See Title Drop below.
  • Narrator: There are two narrators. A male narrator rather drily sets the scene and explains some facts about the colony and leprosy, noting twice that "Leprosy is a curable disease." The second narrative track features Farrokhazad herself, reciting from the Koran, the Old Testament, and her own poetry, about the beauty of the world and the glory of God.
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  • Title Drop: The last scene goes back to the classroom. The teacher brings an adult student who is presumably learning to read to the front of the class. The teacher asks the man to use the word "house" in a sentence. The man writes "The house is black." The end.

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