Samira Makhmalbaf's "The Apple" -- An Analysis

                              "Apple" (Sib, 1998), co-production between Makhmalbaf productions and MK2, is an astonishing work, the debut of a new talent in world cinema. It is based on the true story of eleven year-old twins Zahra and Massoumeh Naderi, whose elderly father and blind mother locked them up at home and never let them out. Their neighbors complained about the girls' treatment to the authorities -- the twins could not speak properly and had not had a bath for years. Samira (daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf) was inspired to make the film when she saw the twins at a welfare center on television. She went there herself and asked the family members to act as themselves. 

                                  Because she did not initially have a 35mm camera, Samira used a video camera to record twins at the welfare center and inserted this footage near the beginning of the film. The video stock signals to us that events were captured in their immediacy, as they were happening. The rest of the film is shot using a 35mm camera, which Samira obtained three days after the television broadcast. The shooting took place over eleven days. It reconstructs the twins' return to their houses, where the father promptly locks them up again, and their re-release into the outside world, largely filming in continuity.

                                  The fictional reconstruction of events that took place only a few days previously gives "The Apple" its extraordinary quality, although it has an important precedent in Kiarostami's "Close Up", which was also inspired by a news story and was filmed four days after actual events. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has The Apple's script credit, has revealed that 'Most of the film was improvised and its dialogue spoken verbally prior to being written down.' 

Samira and Mohsen Makhmalbaf

                                 The film opens with an image of a girl's outstretched hand watering a withered flower through the bars of a door. The story of father locking up his daughter is, for Samira and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 'the story of our nation.' However, Samira seeks to understand rather than condemn in "The Apple." She chooses to focus not on the twins' incarceration but on their liberation -- and therefore, she embodies the hope for a more open society.

                                The two symbolic props which Samira uses in her fictional reconstruction of events are the 'apple' and the 'mirror.' These directly materialize the twins' process of coming to terms with the outside world. According to a theory named 'Mirror Stage' (by French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan), an infant identifies with its image in the mirror between the ages of six and eighteen months that is, at a time when it is speechless and lacking bodily co-ordination. This stage marks the beginning of infant's self-awareness and its recognition that it inhabits a world with others. 

                                Upon the release from their house, the twins can barely walk or talk. When they examine themselves in the mirror presented to them by the social worker, we see them undergoing a delayed 'mirror stage.' The film emphasizes these processes of socialization. When the social worker releases the twins from the house, they have no grasp of the conventions of social behavior. Lacking the concept of money and commerce, they help themselves to ice-creams and apples without paying. Playing hop-scotch with two other girls whom they meet at a park, Massoumeh hits one of her new friends with an apple, apologizes, then hits her again, and finally gives her the apple. But it is through these games that the twins learn how to orientate themselves. 

                                The apple configures the girls' curiosity about the world. It signifies desire, knowledge and temptation as in the story of 'Adam and Eve.' The twins endless try to grab a apple from a boy. He leads them to the market, and takes them back to their father to get money to buy goods, ushering a fall from innocence into the perils of consumerism; the twins demand apples, ice-creams and watches. But, on the other hand, this brings new freedoms and opportunities. 

                                  When the social worker imprisons the father, Ghobran in the house, leaving him with a saw to hack his own way out, it is apparently to give him a taste of his own medicine. But then she gives the key to the twins, saying that he will be released if they can open the door. Massoumeh does eventually work out how to use the key, and her knowledge is his release. "The Apple" can be read as a feminist allegory about women seizing opportunities, disguising its wider socio-political implications through the figure of childhood for the Iranian censors' benefit. 

                                In the final scene, the twins' blind mother wanders out of the house. Throughout the film, she has been as housebound as the twins. She is perhaps the film's most imprisoned figure, having internalized her society's patriarchal beliefs and meted out her own oppression on her daughters. In the street outside, she reaches for the dangling apple, holding it firmly in her grasp in the film's final freeze-frame. Images such as these are rich with allegorical associations yet also resist fixed meanings. 

                               "The Apple" is a condemnation of the mind-numbing oppression of woman, not just in Iran or Middle East, but anywhere.


The Apple (Sib) -- IMDb 


Uma Anandane said...

The truth that was decades ago. Thankfully handful of women braved out in the open and talked how life was then for women ( even with few women now). Must watch !

Aparna Anurag said...

good review of movie

Sahiba Sachdev said...

Thanks for sharing such an amazing insight on a movie i have never heard of... really opens ones horizons... it would be great if you could share such movies as well :)

arun kumar said...

@ Uma Anandane, Thanks for the comment.

@ Aparna Anurag, Thank you. Don't miss the movie.

@Sahiba Sachdev, Thanks for the comment. I will definitely share more of these off-beat movies.