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The Day I Became a Woman
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posted April 30, 2001 10:13
A freewheeling look at the three ages of women
The Chicago Sun-Times
Iranian film's multiple stories illustrate the role of women in country's social structure.
April 27, 2001
"The Day I Became a Woman" links together three stories from Iran - the three ages of women - involving a girl on the edge of adolescence, a wife determined not to be ruled by her husband and a wealthy widow who declares, "Whatever I never had, I will buy for myself now."
All three stories are told in direct and simple terms. They're so lacking in the psychological clutter of Western movies that at first we think they must be fables or allegories. And so they may be, but they are also perfectly plausible. Few things on the screen could not occur in everyday life.
It is just that we're not used to seeing so much of the rest of everyday life left out.
The first story is about Have, a girl on her ninth birthday. As a child she has played freely with her best friend, a boy. But on this day she must begin to wear the chador, the garment that protects her head and body from the sight of men. And she can no longer play with boys. Her transition to womanhood is scheduled for dawn, but her mother and grandmother give her a reprieve, until noon. They put an upright stick in the ground and tell her that when its shadow disappears, her girlhood is over. She measures the shadow with her fingers, and shares a lollipop with her playmate.
The second episode begins with an image that first seems surrealistic, but has a pragmatic explanation. A group of women, all cloaked from head to toe in black, furiously pedal their bicycles down a road next to the sea. A ferocious man on horseback pursues one of the women, Ahoo, who is in the lead. This is a women's bicycle race, and Ahoo's husband does not want her to participate. He shouts at her, at first with solicitude (she should not pedal with her bad leg) and then with threats (a bike is "the devil's mount," and he will divorce her).
She pedals on as the husband is joined by other family members, who finally stop her forcibly.
The third story begins like an episode from a silent comedy, as a young boy pushes a wheelchair containing an old woman, who is as alert as a bird. She directs him into stores where she buys things - a refrigerator, a TV, tables and chairs - and soon she is at the head of a parade of boys pushing carts filled with consumer goods. We learn she inherited a lot of money and plans to spend it while she can, on all the things she couldn't buy while she was married. The scene concludes with a Felliniesque image I will not spoil for you; it is the film's one excursion out of the plausible and into the fantastic, but the story earns it.
"The Day I Became a Woman" is still more evidence of how healthy and alive the Iranian cinema is, even in a society we think of as closed. It was directed by Marzieh Meshkini and produced and written by her husband, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whose own "Gabbeh," from 1996, found a story in the tapestry of a rug.
One of the strengths of this film is that it never pauses to explain, and the characters never have speeches to defend or justify themselves. The little girl will miss her playmate, but trusts her mother and grandmother that she must modestly shield herself from men who are not family members. Only the old grandmother seems free of the system - although she, too, has a habit of pulling her shawl forward over her head, long after any man could be seduced by her beauty; the gesture is like a reminder to herself that she is a woman and must play by the rules.
posted May 01, 2001 09:58
A bright 'Day' in Iran
The San Francisco Chronicle
Husband and wife outwit government system to make their films
April 29, 2001
Ahoo, one of a flock of female bicyclists in rippling black chadors, pedals madly along the Persian Gulf coast, pursued on horseback by her brothers, her father, fellow tribesmen and her husband -- who divorces her at 35 mph.
Last, the elderly Houra arrives on a tourist island with pockets of cash, proceeds to buy up everything she's never had and sets up a household on the beach -- Ikea meets Fellini.
Intriguing as they may be, these descriptions hardly do justice to "The Day I Became a Woman," the directing debut of Iran's Marzieh Meshkini and a film, made up of three parts, of seemingly obvious influences: "Hava" is a neorealist parable; "Ahoo," a semi-surrealistic romp that Luis Bunuel might have cooked up; and "Houra," again, has Fellini-esque qualities. But Meshkini hasn't seen much by these filmmakers because she lives in Iran.
She has, however, been tutored by one of the best: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of the chief reasons Iranian cinema has been in such esteem for the past 10 years, and the director of such masterworks as "The Cyclist," "Gabbeh" and "Salaam Cinema," and, evidently, a teacher of some considerable influence.
His daughter, Samira, had a successful run in New York with "The Apple" two years ago and was a prizewinner at Cannes last year with "Blackboards." Meshkini, who is married to Makhmalbaf, created "The Day I Became a Woman" as her thesis project at the Makhmalbaf Film House, where the veteran director, clandestinely, taught a small group of family and friends.
"We told the government we wanted to open a film school for maybe a hundred students," Makhmalbaf said. "They said no. We did it anyway."
At a small news conference recently in Manhattan, the couple talked through an interpreter -- except when they got excited -- about the genesis of the school, their film (she directed, he wrote the scenario) and the conditions under which an Iranian filmmaker has to exist. And not just in Tehran.
"Why is it that no one writes about the way Iranian artists are treated here?" asked Makhmalbaf, who upon arriving at Kennedy Airport was detained 90 minutes after all other passengers had left, for fingerprinting and what he termed other indignities. "When I'm being fingerprinted, I comfort myself by saying, 'These are just symbols.' And by promising myself to get the immigration agent in my next movie."
He did a festival in India earlier this month. Did he need a visa to go there? "Everywhere," he said. Someone mentioned the teaser October Films had proposed for Jafar Panahi's "The White Balloon" back in 1995: "A movie you'll love, from the country you hate" -- and husband and wife looked, quite justifiably, a little nonplussed.
But then, they have their own problems with the Tehran government. Meshkini made her film as three shorts rather than as a feature because "short films do not require government script approval. On the other hand, you can't buy film at reduced rates or rent government-owned equipment." Her husband said the entire film was made on black market stock. "Another filmmaker gets 150 feet, only uses 140, we buy the 10 that are left."
The film has played only one theater in Iran, Meshkini said; the poster -- of Ahoo on her bicycle -- has been banned. The fact that the film opened earlier this month in New York (courtesy of the Shooting Gallery) is something miraculous.
"Censorship isn't just a committee," Makhmalbaf said. "It's a system."
Although her film is fiercely feminist and anti-clerical, Meshkini, the sister of Makhmalbaf's late first wife, was rather deferential to her husband during the news conference. But who wouldn't be? His life has been the stuff of movies: In 1974, as a 17-year-old revolutionary, he was arrested and jailed -- in the shah's "torture chambers" -- for stabbing a police officer. He was shot for his trouble, the bullet passing through his back and out his stomach. "Being shot doesn't hurt. It's like this," he said, flicking a finger against a colleague. "Two minutes later, though
He has claimed never to have seen a movie until 1982, but when he did, it changed his life: From the fiercest supporter of the fundamentalist regime, he became one of its fiercest critics. He matter-of-factly said he could be jailed anytime, as have many friends of Iran's president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami.
"They really don't want to put us in jail because we're internationally known, and it would be counterproductive," he said of the more fundamentalist forces in Tehran. "So they just try to control the means of making movies" -- while being oblivious to the realities of Iranian life. "Many people there, when they're on the street, they're from Iran. When they're inside their homes, they're from Los Angeles."
posted May 14, 2001 12:16
'Circle' hears Iran's cry
The Boston Globe
May 11, 2001
If you own chador stock, sell it. Those black wraparound garments that encase Iranian women aren't going away tomorrow. But their enshrouding days are clearly limited. One can sense it in two remarkable films from Iran, Marziyeh Meshkini's recently released ''The Day I Became a Woman,'' and now, Jafar Panahi's ''The Circle.''
The first was a magical allegory of men hounding women trying to thrust themselves into the future. ''The
Circle'' uses a documentary texture to depict women recently released from prison in Tehran, only to find that they are no less confined on the outside, that all Iran is a prison, given the subservience to men and the punishing lives inflicted upon women.
The film begins powerfully as a baby is born in a hospital. It's a girl; the baby's grandmother runs out into the street, terrified. In the immediate sense, because she knows the husband's family will pitch a collective fit at the birth of a daughter born into a world where women are forced to be second-class citizens. Thanks, of course, to people like the furious family. In the larger sense, because she knows what awaits the newborn girl in a land where girls are viewed as liabilities. The sadness and desperation in the grandmother's eyes are borne out in the succeeding episodes, none of which depicts women being treated with mercy.
In the end, one is left with vignettes detailing the various women's desperate circumstances. The literally circular prison they left stays with them in a larger societal analogue: they go round in circles, trapped in dead ends.
In one episode, a young girl yearning to return to her hometown must circumvent the fact that a woman cannot buy a bus ticket without a man's OK. In another, a woman must not only scramble to procure an illegal abortion, but must dodge her brothers and father, who would stone her if they could find her. In yet another, a woman is hysterical at the prospect of her respectable husband discarding her if he learned of her prison past.
Later, a woman tries to abandon her daughter, hoping that the girl might find with an adopting family the better life the mother cannot give her. Finally, in a devastating allegory, a prostitute flaunts her prostitution as the only livelihood Iranian society allows her.
It is no accident that Panahi, who got his start with Abbas Kiarostami, diminishes his camera movements with each succeeding episode, echoing the ever more immobilizing narrowing of options for the women. Such moral outrage, apart from the artistry in which it is embedded, tells us that the forces of change are stirring in Iran. Even if they haven't yet erupted, they surely will.
All times are PT (US)
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