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Blackboards Review

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Two refugee teachers search for pupils; one joins a party of boys smuggling contraband across the border, the other joins a group of nomads.

★★★★

Bravely foregoing the easy charm of The Apple (1998), Samira Makmalbaf follows a resolutely realistic path in this uncompromising insight into the harsh existence of the Kurdish refugees of Iran's borderlands.

Visually stark and dramatically spare, it's humbling to watch the respective attempts of teachers Reeboir (Ghobadi) and Said (Mohamadi) to find work with a gang of smugglers and a caravan of elderly exiles. But there's also grim comedy in the way Said offers the blackboard he lugs on his back as a dowry to Halaleh (Jafari), a crotchety widow who ends up divorcing him and depriving him of his livelihood. Reeboir's experiences among the black marketeers are less engaging. But they confirm the value placed on education when persecution has made survival life's only true concern.

An absorbing film about displacement and survival.

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