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The Day I Became a Woman

Posted by martinteller on April 13, 2013

Three stories of women on the island of Kish off the coast of Iran.  In the first, Hava (Fatemeh Cherag Akhar) has just turned nine years old.  By local custom, this is the day she becomes a woman, must put on a chador and stop playing with boys.  She bargains with her mother and grandmother for one more hour of freedom, which she measures with the shadow of a stick.  In the second story, Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui) is bicycle racing with dozens of other women.  Her husband (Sirous Kahvarinegad) considers this a shameful act — women publicly participating in any sport is a subject of much discussion and hand-wringing in Iran — and he rides up on a horse demanding that she stop.  In the final segment, the elderly Hoora (Azizeh Sedighi) is buying everything she ever wanted in life… a washing machine, a stove, a new teapot, a bridal gown, and so forth.  With a caravan of young porters following her wheelchair, she tries to recall the one other thing she wanted.  She has the boys lay out all her new belongings on the beach so she can see what’s missing.

The film was written by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and directed by his wife, Marzieh Meshkini.  You could almost mistake it for an omnibus film, as each portion has a different style.  The first is along the lines of what one normally expects from Iranian cinema: very naturalistic, little camera movement, simple story on a very personal level.  The second is the most blatantly “dramatic”… here the camera is constantly in motion, following Ahoo on her fast-paced journey, lots of cutting and camera positions that put you in the action.  The third has an absurdist tone, somewhat comical and surreal.

Although it is directed by a woman (indeed, Iran has a number of notable female directors) it speaks to the limitations they face, particularly in the cases of Hava and Ahoo.  There is a sad desperation to Hava’s attempts to enjoy her last few moments of childhood, where becoming a “woman” seems more of a punishment than a rite of passage.  Ahoo literally races to escape the shackles of Iranian womanhood.  It might be a rather blatant metaphor, but the fact that she rides a modern bicycle while her pursuers ride horses is telling.  Hoora’s tale is more enigmatic, but the point is made that these material desires are a mere distraction and do nothing to fulfill her.  She doesn’t know what to do with them, and the odd vision of all her possessions bobbing on the sea on tiny boats suggests that their rewards will be unsteady at best.  No matter what she buys, she’s still a woman living in Iran.

Of the three stories, Hava’s was definitely my favorite but each has something to offer.  Likewise, while all the actresses are good, Akhar shines the brightest.  Iranian directors seem to have a knack for getting genuine, endearing performances out of children… no doubt the use of non-professionals is a contributing factor.

The ending ties things together nicely, but leaves the futures of each protagonist uncertain.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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