Abbas Kiarostami's 1989 documentary turns an age-old question into a deeper exploration of Iranian Society. Info
Just like schoolchildren, many parents over the decades have asked themselves: "What is homework for?" The late Abbas Kiarostami, an amiable pillar of Iranian cinema as well as a father, set out to explore this question in his 1989 documentary Homework. The setup is simple enough: Kiarostami wants to understand why his children won't do their homework, so he sets out to interview the children of a local school about what issues they have with completing their assigned work. Over the course of his interviews with the children (and a couple of parents), he outlines the myriad personal and social forces at work in 1980s Iran that contributed to the children's fraught relationship with schoolwork.
As with many Kiarostami films, the confounding nature of what exactly Homework is is part of its appeal. His penchant for blurring the fact/fiction boundary emerges in the sometimes stitched-together nature of his interviews, as well as the confusing number of shots he includes of his camera operator adjusting his camera. Discounting these distractions, the bulk of the footage makes up the kind of research project that many exasperated and desperate parents might want to take on, with the key difference being that this parent is a master filmmaker. Kiarostami lends a sort of journalistic rigor and seriousness to his interrogations of children, a commitment that yields unexpectedly dramatic dividends as the film turns into a missive on the then-contemporary state of Iran's education system, and more broadly on the oppressive social and familial factors that hinder child development. The path from a humble thesis question to an urgent social document may seem complicated. Like many of the best documentarians, Kiarostami makes this route deceptively simple by asking the right questions and letting the camera roll. —Maxwell Courtright