Iranian Kurdistan, near the border with Iraq. A group of displaced teachers - who carry their blackboards strapped to their backs for protection from an unseen military enemy - wander the barren, mountainous terrain in search of much-needed pupils with whom they wish to swap education for sustenance.
Following an attack from an army helicopter the teachers become separated. One, Said (Mohamadi), falls in with a group of nomads from Iraq trying to make their perilous way back home. Winning the trust of the group by using his board as transport for an elderly member of the group, Said, then attempts to win the hand of the old man's daughter Hahaleh (Jafari) by offering his board as dowry. Meanwhile, Reeboir (Ghobadi), another teacher, finds himself amongst a party of boys trying to smuggle contraband goods across the border.
Makhmalbaf's follow-up to her debut, the astonishing "The Apple" - made at the tender age of 18 - is further evidence of the arrival of a major and astoundingly mature new voice in Iranian cinema. Continuing her working relationship with her father, the acclaimed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who here edits and contributed the screenplay, Samira Makhmalbaf has fashioned an intelligent, multi-layered and profoundly humanist (not to mention gently political) meditation on the values of knowledge, education, and the affects of cultural and geographical displacement.
Makhmalbaf and Director of Photography Ebrahim Ghafouri make the most of the arduous filming conditions to create a visual canvas both tellingly realistic - the sense of suffering and hardship is intense - and yet at times distinctly surreal, in which the literal and the metaphorical magically entwine. Powered by naturalistic performances from her troupe of largely non-professional actors and shot through with a devastating undercurrent of pessimism, "Blackboards" is likely to be one of the most original and potent movies of the year.