‘Homework’: Stay for its youth, question its filmmaker

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When you were in elementary school, what were your excuses for not doing your homework?

For children all over the world, answers could be more similar than you’d expect. In “Homework,” a group of young schoolboys in Iran are presented with one simple question: Why didn’t you do your homework? 

Taking place at the equivalent of an elementary school in 1989, the film reveals the inner workings of the young learners’ minds. Excuses range from watching too many cartoons to not being able to work with guests over, but at times the interrogations of the students seem harsh for children who are no older than 10.

At the beginning of the film, Abbas Kiarostami elucidates how parents can be just as involved in schoolwork as students are. The filmmaker wanted “Homework” to focus on the educational system, its flaws and what impact families have on their children’s learning experiences.      

However, the nature of certain questions seems exploitative in the hands of people so young. For one student, the discussion of punishment turned sour when the filmmaker asked the interviewee how his parents beat him for doing poorly on assignments. As a child, this is a sensitive topic, and it is uncomfortable to watch as the young boy is asked to recount his trauma on camera — perhaps revealing a shortcoming in Kiarostami’s history with his film subjects.

As further revealed, many children are disadvantaged because of how often their parents work in the evenings — the primary time when students require assistance with the day’s schoolwork. While Kiarostami does ask the hard questions that most would shy away from, the presentation of them on camera while filming the students’ reactions often feels jarring, awkward and intrusive.  

But nothing says awkward and intrusive better than the 1990s. If there’s anything to note about “Homework,” it’s the conflict of not wanting to intrude on these children’s lives, but adoring their faces on screen as they appear in sweaters with fresh haircuts. The youthful presence is endearing to watch, and — with muffled sound quality and fuzzy frames — maybe these children’s excuses will remind you of your own.  

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.