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Iran's 'Woman,' on the Verge

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2001


    'The Day I Became a Woman' "The Day I Became a Woman" is in Farsi with English subtitles. (Mayssam Makhmalbaf/Shooting Gallery)
Censorship has been a source of inspiration for Iranian director Marzieh Meshkini, who movingly explores the plight of females in "The Day I Became a Woman," an episodic drama rich in sly humor and symbolic imagery. Without rancor or hectoring, Meshkini unveils the second-class status of women in her country's suffocating, misogynistic society.

Meshkini does have a man behind her in her husband, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the renowned filmmaker who taught his wife and children how to make films. Makhmalbaf also crafted this screenplay, which tells the stories of three intriguing women faced with the loss or lack of freedom at different stages in their lives.

The first centers on Havva (Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar), a vivacious youngster about to celebrate her ninth birthday. Actually, she's about to be fitted in black headgear and prevented from playing with the lad who's her best friend (Hassan Nabehan). Boys are off-limits for marriageable grown-ups like Havva.

When the child learns that she was born at noon, she begs her mother and grandmother for one last hour to play – after all, it's only 11 o'clock. She and her playmate, who has been locked in his room to finish his lessons, share one last Tootsie Pop before Havva turns to leave. Surely it's no coincidence that he watches through the bars of his window as she departs.

The second, more hopeful episode centers on Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui), a determined young wife who is competing in a bicycle race against her family's wishes. Her husband, on horseback, chases her down, but Ahoo ignores him and rides faster. He returns with reinforcements, but still Ahoo rides on. The clan's elders show up. Ahoo rides on.

She is in first place when her brothers arrive, corral her and take away her bike as well as her freedom and the wind in her hair. At least they think they have put her back in her place, but as we discover in the last episode, they have created a martyr whose deeds have already become the talk of Kish Island (the only place in the country where women can ride bicycles freely).

In that last segment Houra (Azizeh Seddighi), an old lady in a wheelchair, hires a youngster (Badr Irouni Nejad) to take her on a shopping spree. She's come into a large inheritance and has decided to buy everything she has ever wanted – from a set of designer sheets to a refrigerator-freezer. But these are modern items and she has no idea how to use them. It's too late for Houra, who loads her purchases onto a pontoon boat and heads out to sea.

Nine-year-old Havva, saucer eyes filled with questions, watches her drift toward the horizon. Perhaps she sees herself in 60 years. Perhaps, like the filmmakers, she sees an ocean of possibilities for the new generation.

"The Day I Became a Woman" (78 minutes), the fourth film in this year's Shooting Gallery series, is unrated.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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