The Wunderkind Iranian Director Who Stopped Making Films

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By Richard BrodyOctober 19, 2020

Portrait of Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf between red flowers
The Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf last released a feature in 2008.Photograph by Piet Goethals / Reporters / Redux

The Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf is one of the best modern directors, and one of the most precocious of all time, but, even when the repertory houses were in high gear prior to the lockdown, her films were rarely shown. Makhmalbaf made her first feature, “The Apple,” in 1997, at the age of seventeen; her second, “Blackboards,” came out in 2000, and her third, “At Five in the Afternoon,” three years after that. All three display an artistry that is intensely of its time yet at the leading edge, and that is of its place yet reflects an international sensibility—and I’ve recently discovered that all are available to stream. Makhmalbaf expanded, intensified, and refined her artistry from film to film, becoming, by the age of twenty-three, one of the most original directors in the world. (I haven’t seen her fourth film, “Two-Legged Horse,” from 2008, which isn’t streaming anywhere.) She should have joined other rising filmmakers of the time in being considered, now, a modern master. Instead, for reasons unknown to me, she hasn’t made a film in more than a decade (nor left any trace of activity online at all).

Makhmalbaf is the scion of a cinematic dynasty. Her father, Mohsen Makhmalbaf (who co-wrote the script for “The Apple”), has been a leading Iranian director since the nineteen-eighties; her stepmother, Marziyeh Meshkini, has directed three features, including “The Day I Became a Woman,” from 2000; her younger sister, Hana, has directed two. In effect, the Makhmalbaf family is the Iranian counterpart to the Coppolas—and, remarkably, like Sofia Coppola’s first feature, “The Virgin Suicides,” from 1999, Samira Makhmalbaf’s first feature, “The Apple,” is a story of daughters imprisoned at home. It is also an amazing fusion of documentary and fiction, a dramatization of a real-life event reënacted by the actual people it concerned. (The version that’s currently streaming only has Spanish subtitles.)’ve read your last complimentary article this month. Subscribe now and get a free tote.. If you’re already a subscriber sign in.

Richard Brody began writing for The New Yorker in 1999. He writes about movies in his blog, The Front Row. He is the author of “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.”More:FilmsMoviesIranDirectorsWomen Writers

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