Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK

It was an honor to review Abbas Kiarostami’s great 1989 doc HOMEWORK for Cine-File Chicago. It screens as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable Kiarostami retrospective twice in the next week:


Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK
Friday and Monday, 6pm

“It’s not really a film, more a piece of research.” So says an off-screen Abbas Kiarostami, with characteristic modesty, to an unseen passerby while filming the scene of children walking to school that opens this delightful and deceptively simple documentary. While Kiarostami is widely regarded as one of the giants of narrative cinema in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, his prolific side-career as a documentarian is less well-known due to the vagaries of international film distribution. This 1989 feature, which grew out of and serves as a companion piece to the director’s 1987 breakthrough masterpiece WHERE IS THE FRIEND’S HOUSE?, is an ideal place for the uninitiated to start exploring his non-fiction work. The majority of the running time is devoted to direct-to-camera interviews with students from Tehran’s Shahid Masumi elementary school about the topic of homework; but the conversations between Kiarostami and his subjects gradually deepen so that the film eventually becomes an ethical inquiry into corporal punishment, poverty, illiteracy and the clash between tradition and modernity in post-revolutionary Iran. Kiarostami’s masterstroke here was to foreground the filmmaking process by occasionally cutting from close-ups of the children to “reverse angles” of the cinematographer who was filming them with a 16mm camera—and thus frequently reminding the viewer of exactly what these kids were seeing during the interviews. In a subtle but radical way, these “intrusive” shots invite us to empathize with the children, one of whom is terrified by the adult filmmaking team to the point of crying hysterically. That the film climaxes with an unexpectedly passionate recitation by this timid and reluctant interview subject is a testament to how Kiarostami was able to coax great performances out of children and non-actors alike. (1989, 78 min, DCP Digital) MGS

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

3 responses to “Abbas Kiarostami’s HOMEWORK

  • Dan Pal

    Hey Michael! Homework is a gem of a film and, you’re right, a great companion piece to Where is the Friend’s House? I’m a huge fan of the Koker Trilogy and even did my Masters Thesis work on the films not long after they were originally released. Kiarostami was a master at working with young children. He got some of the best performances from kids in the history of cinema. The trilogy (along with Homework) looks absolutely beautiful on the new Criterion releases. Having all of these films is a true treat! Dan Pal

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