THE APPLE WAS DIRECTED BY 18-YEAR-old Samira Makhmalbaf, daughter of the world-famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A Moment of Innocence, The Cyclist), who wrote the script and edited the movie for his beloved daughter. Shot in Tehran, the movie concerns an unemployed and very religious father, his blind wife, and the twin daughters he kept locked up for 11 years. Through the efforts of concerned neighbors, the father comes under the scrutiny of the state, the press, and a very aggressive social worker. The social worker liberates the girls from their father's prison, punishing the father with public shame for the evil he has committed.

The movie, like many of the delightful new films coming out of Iran, is based on a true story, with the original subjects playing themselves. That the father does a great job is no small accomplishment, considering how difficult it is to play oneself. His speeches about how unfair his neighbors were to report him--how they failed to appreciate his point of view (with a blind wife, he felt he needed to lock up the girls for their own safety) and how they soiled his family name forever--are delivered with a sense of hurt that is both comic and tragic.

One big disappointment in this movie is its failure to capture the city of Tehran with the sense of excitement, wonder, and beauty we have come to appreciate in recent Iranian films. Granted, the director may have done this to emphasize the prison-like world the father imposes on his daughters, but this is at a great cost. For many of us who enjoy Iranian cinema, Tehran is a big star, and its resplendent presence is missed.