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The House Is Black

The House is Black, 1963

This short documentary film captures glimpses of the lives of men, women, and children living in a leper "colony" in Iran.

This is a very brief, but moving portrait of the lives of people living with a disfiguring, frightening disease. While there are a few isolated shots of the effects of leprosy, most of the images of the people are in action: children in a classroom, a woman nursing a baby, men smoking pipes or cigarettes against a wall. The drooping eyelids, missing noses, and mangled fingers are all normal in this setting.

Underneath it all, there is narration consisting of religious text and poetry from the woman who made the film. There is an undercurrent of irony as the chanting students thank God for giving them eyes . . . even as leprosy is robbing them of their vision.

The final shots, however, give a call to action. Leprosy is treatable. If the poor are treated well, the disease can be eradicated. It is a push for compassion, to replace fear with love and caring.