Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of TIFF’s film series The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami. For more information, visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
In a simple four-minute fable, Abbas Kiarostami makes an appeal for empathy and understanding instead of vengeance when two elementary school students demonstrate two possible outcomes for the same problem. When a boy borrows and accidentally tears his friend’s book, his friend could choose a path of righteous indignation or a path of peaceful resolution. The friend has every “right” to settle the score by tearing something of his in return. The concept of an eye for an eye has been within the bounds of fair play for ages and though there are more peaceful resolutions for this simple infraction, justice needs to be served.
There are no grand speeches about the merits of empathy, no lofty dissections of the nature of good and evil, just a simple demonstration of something that has probably happened in countless classrooms around the world every day since the inception of public education.
Hostilities quickly escalate and the inventory of damaged books, soiled clothing, and blackened eyes grows quickly. The friendship may be permanently damaged and the book is still ripped, but these are small prices to pay to maintain the very fundamental concept of justice. After playing out this scenario where both parties give into their baser instincts, Kiarostami offers an alternative solution that emphasizes empathy and cooperation. The damage to the book is quickly repaired with tape, the boys remain friends, and an escalation of hostilities is avoided for what was essentially a non-issue. There are no grand speeches about the merits of empathy, no lofty dissections of the nature of good and evil, just a simple demonstration of something that has probably happened in countless classrooms around the world every day since the inception of public education.
We often surrender our more noble traits in service of some notion of justice that has taught us that every problem must have a responsible party and that party must be punished for their transgressions. We carry the unfounded belief that the punishment must occur to maintain the delicate balance of social order. We can find innumerable ways to justify our ignoble behavior, from policies to precedents that have been around longer than we have. We didn’t make the rules; we’re simply trying to be “good” members of society by playing by them without much thought for their objective merits. Who are we to question to the fundamental constructs of social order? A sin has been committed and somebody is going to pay. I’ve heard some nonsense about forgiving those who trespass against us, but that only counts if that party has been sufficiently punished for their transgressions. Letting go of that notion is difficult for some, because without consequence then what motivation does one have to do the “right thing”?
Abbas Kiarostami's short subject "Two Solutions for One Problem" examines the very human belief in the use of punishment to maintain the delicate balance of social order.