First Graders | Chicago Reader

First Graders

The only feature by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami I've seen that I dislike, this 1984 documentary, filmed almost exclusively at an elementary school for boys in one of the poorest sections of Tehran, is objectionable in much the same way as Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Salaam Cinema—as an exploitation of relatively powerless people carried out in the name of, and with all the intimidating power of, the cinema (and without the ironic distance toward the medium displayed in Kiarostami's best work). Similar in some respects to Frederick Wiseman's documentaries, it concentrates on boys brought to the principal's office for misbehaving and other problems. But the influence of the camera on the proceedings is never acknowledged, and in effect the film becomes a tribute to the wisdom of the principal (and more implicitly Kiarostami), much as the Makhmalbaf film became a tribute to the wisdom of Makhmalbaf. A first draft in some ways of the much superior Kiarostami documentary Homework, made five years later. In Persian with subtitles.

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