Film Review: The Apple (1998)
This engrossing film from first-time Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf tells the true story of 12-year old twin girls who since birth have been kept locked inside their home by their parents.
Their mother is blind and their elderly father is worried that allowing the girls to play outside in the yard would make them vulnerable to local youths who sometimes climb over the front wall to retrieve their football. When some of the neighbours send a petition to Social Services, the girls are initially taken into care, then allowed home on condition that the parents allow them to leave the house.
What makes this film so extraordinary is that it has the style of a documentary but is actually re-enacting scenes that happened so that the camera can record them. The director managed to get the family to agree to take part in the film.
The girls’ case was picked up by the newspapers and the father in particular feels aggrieved when it is reported (wrongly it seems) that the girls were chained up and neglected. At times the father breaks down in tears at what he sees as his mistreatment by the Press. The mother remains angry at how outsiders have intruded upon her life. One wonders why they agreed to take part in a film that doesn’t reflect very well on them. Money perhaps? The chance to give their side of the story?
Most of the film portrays how life changes for the family when a social worker insists that the children be allowed out into the streets to play with other children. The two girls can barely speak, having had no contact with anyone except their parents. Yet the local children quickly befriend them and there seems real hope that the girls can adjust to a more normal life.
The girls themselves seem remarkably joyful considering the limitations that have been placed on them. They take delight in simple pleasures like making handprints on the wall, watering a plant, eating an ice cream. They are clearly not acting but just being themselves. It is hard to tell whether all the scenes are re-enacting events that actually happened but the film has a natural feel and a simplicity that makes you believe this is a true story.
The director was only 17 when she made the film but must have benefited from her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, also being a film director. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is the way in which the director lets the camera linger over each scene, allowing the story to unfold gradually. The film won the award for best first feature at the London Film Festival.
Review by David Hawthorn