Tuesday, 3 March 2020

The House Is Black — Which Version to Screen



The House Is Black (1962), the only film directed by the poet Forough Farrokhzad before her tragic death at the age of 37, is short like the life of its creator. Only twenty minutes long, this haunting piece of cinema and poetry has become a milestone not only for Iranian cinema but also for women filmmakers in general. However, many people viewers don't realise that almost every single circulating print of the film has been incomplete and not the featuring the version that Farrokhzad originally cut. Or I should say all the prints were missing elements until September 2019 when the film was restored by Cineteca di Bologna.

If you have seen the film in 35mm prints in one of the European or American films festivals, it's very likely that you have seen a print preserved either by Oberhausen Film Festival (where it received the main prize of the International Jury for the best documentary in 1964) or an analogue restoration of the film by CNC in France. Both prints, though fine in quality, miss verses of poetry and both have burnt-in French subtitles with a translation which is not exactly flawless.


Both prints and other duplications of it (which are all unauthorised) source from the first journey of the film to Europe in 1963/64.  The film was sent to Cannes (hence the French subtitle of the prints) but according to the producer of the film, Ebrahim Golestan, the festival refused to screen it in the main venue, claiming that the images would be to upsetting for the viewers. Golestan withdrew the film and sent it to Oberhausen instead. However, this version was not the same that Farrokhzad completed and showed for the first time at the cinematheque of Tehran in early 1962. What happened to the film between these two dates is still subject to speculation. My own conjecture is this:

When the people who had commissioned the film saw Farrokhzad's original cut they thought there was too much poetry and too little factual information about the illness on which the film was meant to create awareness. Golestan stepped in and re-mixed the soundtrack and removed some of the poetry from the narration. When I asked Golestan about it, he denied categorically. But having listened to the soundtrack of various copies, I have no doubt that the film's sound was mixed more than once. Even some of the same words are pronounced slightly different when compared to other prints.

For the restoration of the film carried out at Cineteca di Bologna, we treated it as Forough's film which meant going back to the original version. While the length of prints were identical, the sound mix proved to be different with 6 points in the film missing some verses which was in the original cut. (The time-codes are 4:40, 10:51, 11:48, 13:33, 14:50, 20:48.) There was one print in Europe which was complete: Cinémathèque Française's. My guess is that it was Farrokh Ghaffari, the founder and programmer of the cinematheque in Tehran and a close ally of Langlois' who donated that print to the cinematheque in Paris.

Bernard Eisenschitz who produced the first DVD release of The House Is Black was either aware of the issue of incompleteness or was informed by Golestan who authorised the release. Hence Eisenschitz in that release (actually a supplementary disc to Cinema magazine) reconstructed the film in a similar manner we carried out the restoration. However, the placing of missing voices is slightly (just the matter of seconds) inaccurate in at least one point which we have corrected in Cineteca restoration.

When we restored the sound, some words hardly heard in distribution prints became clear. For instance there is a scene in which Forough counts the number of days while a leper paces the yard up and down in an image encapsulating the futility of life in the colony or life period. When we restored it, it became clear that under the main voice, Forough, in a lower voice, also counts the months (albeit in Persian calendar). The restored version in a good cinema should enable you to hear both.

In addition to these sound works, we have improved the translation of the film under Mr. Golestan's own supervision.

So at the moment the most complete version of the film, restored in 4K, and premiered at Venice Film Festival 2019 is the version available from Cineteca di Bologna which can be booked here: Carmen.Accaputo at cineteca.bologna.it

1 comment:

  1. THE HOUSE IS BLACK - Forough Farrokhzad's narration/poem



    در هاویه کیست که تو را حمد می‌گوید ای خداوند؟ در هاویه کیست؟
    نام تو را ای متعال خواهم سرائید،
    نام ترا با عود ده تار خواهم سرائید؛
    زیرا به شکلی مهیب و عجیب ساخته شده‌ام.
    استخوان‌هایم از تو پنهان نبود وقتی که نهان به وجود می‌آمدم،
    و در اسفل زمین نقش‌بندی می‌گشتم.
    در دفتر تو همگی اعضای من نوشته شده،
    و چشمان تو ای متعال جنین مرا دیده است.
    چشمان تو جنین مرا دیده است.
    گفتم کاش مرا بال‌ها بود مثل کبوتر می‌بود
    تا پرواز کرده، راحتی می‌یافتم.
    می‌شتافتم به سوی پناهگاهی از باد تند و طوفان شدید؛
    زیرا که در زمین مشقت و شرارت دیده‌ام.
    دنیا به بطالت آبستن شده و ظلم را زاییده است.
    از روح تو به کجا بگریزم،
    و از حضور تو کجا بروم.
    اگر بال‌های باد سحر را بگیرم و در اقصای دریا ساکن شوم،
    آن جا نیز سنگینی دست تو بر من است.
    مرا بادۀ سرگردانی نوشانده‌ای.
    چه مهیب است کارهای تو،
    چه مهیب است کارهای تو.
    از تلخی روح خود سخن می‌رانم.
    هنگامی که خاموش بودم
    جانم پوسیده می‌شد از نعره‌ای که تمام روز می‌زدم.
    به یادآور که زندگی من باد است.
    مانند مرغ سقای صحرا، و بوم خرابه‌ها گردیده‌ام،
    و چون گنجشک بر پشت بام منفرد نشسته‌ام.
    مثلِ آب ریخته شده‌ام، و مثل آنانی که از قدیم پژمرده‌اند،
    و بر مژگانم سایۀ موت است. بر مژگانم سایۀ موت است.
    مرا ترک کن، مرا ترک کن؛ زیرا که روزهایم نفسی است.
    مرا ترک کن. پیش از آن که به جایی روم که از آن برگشتنی نیست.
    به سرزمین تاریکی غلیـظ. آه، ای خداوند!
    جان فاختۀ خود را به جانور وحشی مسپار
    و به یاد آور که زندگی من باد است
    و ایام بطالت را نصیب من کرده‌ای.
    و در گرداگردم آواز شادمانی
    ز صدای آسیاب و روشنایی چراغ نابود شده است.
    خوشا به حال دروگرانی که اکنون کشت را جمع می‌کنند،
    و دست‌های ایشان سنبله‌ها را می‌چینند.
    بیائید آواز کسی که در بیابان بی راه می‌خواند گوش دهید؛
    آواز کسی که آه می‌کشد و دست‌های خود را دراز کرده می‌گوید؛
    وای من برمن! زیرا که که جان ِ من در من به سبب ِ جراحاتم در من بیهوش شده است.
    وای بر ما، زیرا که روز رو به زوال نهاده است
    و سایه‌های عصر دراز می‌شوند
    و هستی ِ ما چون قفسی که پُر از پرندگان باشد
    از ناله‌های اسارت لبریز است.
    و در میان ما کسی نیست که بداند که تا به کی خواهد بود.
    موسم حصاد گذشت و تابستان تمام نشد و ما نجات نیافتیم.
    مانند فاخته برای انصاف می‌نالیم و نیست.
    انتظار نور می‌کشیم، و اینک ظلمت است.
    و توای نهر سرشار،
    که نفس مهر تو را می‌راند،
    به سوی ما بیا.

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