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The Day I Became a Woman

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Day I Became a Woman

Starring: Shabnam Toloui, Azizeh Sedighi
Director: Marzieh Meshkini
Rated: NR
RunTime: 78 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Hassan Nebhan, Sirous Kahvarinegad, Badr Iravani

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As I stated in a recent review, Joan Baez--hardly a woman to stay at home--used to love to sing Marty Tipton's lyrics to an Appalachian folk song during the seventies: "Hard is the fortune of all womankind,/ She's always controlled, she's always confined,/ Controlled by her parents until she's a wife,/ A slave to her husband for the rest of her life." Evidently she had not see the movie "Heartbreakers," definitive proof that women are the stronger gender. But if Ms. Baez wants confirmation of her theory, she need only go today to Iran where she would find the fair sex treated only slightly better than its counterparts in Afghanistan.

In the vision of director Marzieh Meshkini--whose husband, Mohsen Makmalbaf wrote the strikingly realized script-- women in Iran have every right to be appalled by their treatment. While the film does not bring out the Iranian tradition that holds if your firstborn is a girl, you are consoled with the thought, "May your next be a boy," "The Day I Became a Woman" makes one thing clear through Ebraheem Gahfouri and Shahrzad Pouya's photography on the touristic island of Kish. Hard is the fortune of all (Iranian) womankind. "The Day" is a trilogy, its loose connection becoming clear only in the final moments, featuring the same person as a nine-year-old girl, as a married twenty-something, and finally as a very old woman. While their names are different, they are metaphorically the same person: Havva, or Eve dominates the first segment as the woman who, like her Old Testament counterpart, loses her freedom; Ahoo (Gazelle), like the fleet-footed quadraped, attempts to regain her independence; and Houra (Black-Eyed Beauty), now in her eighties, looks back forlornly on her unemancipated life and tries without much hope to make up for seven futile decades.

In Episode One, Havva (Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar--who is like almost all of Ms. Meshkini's characters a non- professional performer)--has awakened on her ninth birthday, which is not the happy affair enjoyed by most American girls her age. She has just become a woman, according to her grandmother (Ameneh Passand) and mother (Shahr Banou Sisizadeh) and is therefore no longer allowed to play with her boy friend (Hassan Nabehan). In fact she must now cover her head with a chador, the traditional Iranian garb (in much the way that an Orthodox Jewish boy after his Bar Mitzvah must now drape himself with a tallis). But it's 11 a.m. and her mom allows one final hour of childhood since she was born at noon, so Eve takes a stick to measure the sun's shadow on the beach and goes off to share a lollipop with the boy.

In Episode Two, Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui) is engaged in a bike race across the only area that women are allowed to ride what some men call The Devil's Mount--a bike path along the Kish oceanfront. She is chased first by her husband (Cyrus Kahouri Nejad), then by the local religious leader, and finally by a bunch of guys who belong to her clan. The men advise her to get off the bike and go home--that she is disgracing the family name. Should she refuse, the husband will divorce her on the spot--and believe it or not, it is much much easier for a man to get a divorce in Iran than it is for an American in any state of the union.

In the final episode--which features the most surreal, Felliniesque scene I've seen in any modern Iranian picture-- an old woman (Azizeh Seddighi) has come into some money and is off on a shopping spree, having hired a kid (Badr Irouni Nejad) to push her wheelchair around an amazingly slick and modern bazaar on the island. She assembles a refrigerator, washing machine, and some furniture on the beach for transport into the sea. In this metaphoric finale, the nine-year-old Eve, now transformed into a crone, sees her life as one of quiet desperation. She is looked upon as men look upon all women in Iran--as fit consumers but not as producers. (In fact in a splendid case of life's reflecting art and vice versa, filmmaker Meshkini has stated in interviews that the life of a female director is not easy--that a woman must work overtime to gain the respect and confidence of the male crew).

The movie faced a strange irony in its creation. The nine- man censorship board seems to have had no problem approving the movie's motif, which is the desperation of women, arguing only about the sucking of the lollipop by two nine-year-olds in the opening segment. Too erotic! While many viewers consider the second episode the best, the most heartbreaking, I'd vote for the third with its remarkable sense of whimsy. The scene of Black-Eyed Beauty loaded with consumer goods on the beach while the boys "plug in" the washing machine and refrigerator to clean their clothes and drink the sodas--a knockout! But then, so is this entire work. Seems that the best films nowadays are coming out of that beguiling Near Eastern country, paradoxically labeled a rogue nation by the U.S. yet giving rise to artists who are so talented, so subtle, so deeply explorative of the human condition.

As I was leaving the screening room I overheard a woman say to her male friend, "Isn't it weird that the women's liberation movement [I think she meant the most recent example that began during the 1970s] began in the U.S. and France, where women were already the most liberated in the world?" "Not at all," I would have told her if I felt like intruding. Revolutions begins when people see possibilities. When a group are completely repressed, you don't have a liberation movement. I believe Iran today, given the election four years ago of a so-called moderate president (reasonable, that is, in comparison with the fanatical mullahs, or religious leaders), offers real hope for women. The mere existence of "The Day I Became a Woman" is evidence.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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