Takhté siah (Blackboards) (2000) 





Director:  Samira Makhmalbaf.

Starring:  Said Mohamadi (Said), Behnaz Jafari (Halaleh), Bahman Ghobadi (Reeboir), Mohamad Karim Rahmati (Father), Rafat Moradi (Ribvar), Mayas Rostami (Young boy storyteller), Saman Akbari (Group leader), Ahmad Bahrami (Marriage registrar), Mohamad Moradi (Match maker), Karim Moradi (Old man), Hassan Mohamadi (Child), Rasool Mohamadi (The boy porter), Somaye Veisee (Little girl).

male teachers travel in Kurdish region of Iran looking for students and running into terrible misadventures 



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Kurdish Iran.  A group of teachers carry their blackboards on their backs looking for students to teach so that they can eke out a living.  Said tells another teacher who he is close to that he could not find any pupils.  His father had told him to be a shepherd, not a teacher.  Now Said regrets his decision to become a teacher.  A helicopter flies overhead and the teachers hurriedly have to hide beneath their blackboards.  In order to blend in with the mountains, the teachers spread mud over their blackboards.  Said tells the other teacher that he had a fight with his wife and she went back to her father.  Now he is left with the care of three children, one of them a baby.  The group splits with Said and the other teacher going straight.  Said decides to try the village ahead, while the other teacher decides to climb to the top of the mountain in search of students. 

Said meets a farmer who asks him to read a letter for him from his son.   Said tries but the letter is not in Persian.  Seeing the father is very concerned about his son who is in prison, Said makes up a positive letter in his head and pretends he is reading the letter to the farmer.  Said moves on to the village but finds that people are very reluctant to talk to him.  He shouts and shouts announcing his goals as a teacher.

Meanwhile, the other teacher in his climb to the mountain top finds a group of boys loaded down with heavy packages.  They do not want to stop for the teacher, but the teacher insists.  They finally tell him that they are mules carrying stolen goods across the border to Iraq.  They are too poor and too busy trying to survive to worry about getting an education.  The teacher pleads with them and walks with them still trying to convince them to become students.  Finally, one young boy decides he wants to learn how to read and he becomes a student.  The teacher instructs the young fellow while they walk along. 

Said runs into a large group of old men, Iraqi Kurds, who are walking to the Iraqi border in order to return to their homeland where they want to spend their last days.  They ask Said to lead them to the Iraq border in return for 40 walnuts.  He cannot convince anyone to learn how to read and finally agrees to use his blackboard as a stretcher to carry an old man who is very sick.  He is unable to urinate despite the constant encouragement of those around him.  The old man has a grown daughter, Halaleh, who in turn has a young son.  Her husband was killed.  The old man wants to marry off his daughter.  In order to marry Halaleh, Said agrees to give the blackboard to her.  She agrees to the marriage with an overwhelming sense of indifference. 

The other teacher is also having a hard time.  One boy falls down the mountain and his friends have to retrieve him.  The teacher cuts his blackboard in half to use some of the wood to make a splint for the boy's broken leg. 

Said is getting no cooperation from his new wife.  He tries to teach her how to read and write, but she shows no interest.  She won't even answer him.  Said becomes so fed up that he decides to leave both the group and his wife and stepson.  His wife tells him to stop, but only long enough for her to get the clothes drying on his blackboard.  She tells him that the men in her life get on and off regularly and she is emotionally exhausted from it.   All of a sudden the now frightened old men run past them.  Soldiers at the border have started firing on them. 

The teacher with the mules cleans off his blackboard in a stream.  The teacher learns from the boys that they are in great danger.  They split up into smaller groups.  The teacher accompanies his student and some other boys.  Near the border they run into soldiers.  Now the boys start walking on all fours in order to join into a large goat herd in the hope that they will not be spotted.  The soldiers, however, spot them and the boys have to make a run for it.  One by one the boys are shot and killed.  We see the blackboard fall to the ground, most likely indicating that the teacher has also been shot and killed. 

Said and his small family hide under his blackboard.  The father finally urinates, but in his pants.  Halaleh is extremely frightened by the possibility of chemical weapons being used.  She repeats the name of the town, Halebtcheh, against which Sadam Hussein used chemical weapons. 

Said brings the old men to the border, but at first they do not believe him.  Many say that he is lying; they are not at the border.  Said tells them that the area looks different from what they remember because it has been bombed.  Stilling having difficulties with Halaleh, Said decides to divorce her.   She, however, gets to keep the blackboard.  Said remains behind as the others walk to the border. 


Good movie.  It really makes one feel bad about the situation in which the Kurds find themselves.  One feels bad for the boys who have to carry heavy loads for little pay and the possibility that they might be killed by soldiers.  The boys are too busy surviving to have time to learn to read and write.   The situation of the older Iraqis is little better.  They are walking to Iraq from Iran, but are also exposed to possible death from the soldiers.  And then there are the poor teachers who have to almost beg for students and for meager rewards.  Being with the Kurds also exposes them to possible death. 

The part dealing with the children who had to be mules carrying stolen goods to make a living is pretty straightforward.  It was harder, however, to understand the situation of the older men.  The men were all old except for one woman and her young son.  Where are all the old women?  Did they decide to stay in Iran?  Were they already dead along with many younger Kurds?  None of this is really explained.  And the behavior of the woman is one of a crazed person.  She hardly speaks at all.  She likes to make strange sounds instead, even when she is responding to the question of marriage.   Is the woman crazy and if so, will somebody at least acknowledge that fact?

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

1980-1987  --  Iran-Iraq War.  Iraqi Kurds become refugees in Iranian Kurdistan to escape from the chemical weapons used by Sadam Hussein. 

To make a little money young boys risk their lives every day to carry stolen goods across the Iranian/Iraq border into Iraq. 

The director believes that the older generation is more nationalistic and that they wanted to die on their own land in Iraq. 


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