Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: Not Rated, but should be PG for mild adult situations. In Farsi with English subtitles
Run Time: 1 hour, 14 minutes
The convoluted status of the modern Iranian female roars to life in this subtle, powerful triptych of loosely connected vignettes highlighting the omnipresent battle of the sexes.
Eastern cultures still struggle with the fundamental problem of how to perceive the gentler sex. At the birth of a newborn girl, parents are consoled by friends and family, and wishes for a baby boy are bestowed. Director Marzieh Meshkini focuses on this unfortunate, preordained social status with three evocative short stories about what it means to be a woman in Iran.
The first is the poignant account of young Hava (Fatemeh Akhtar), who awakens on her ninth birthday to be told that now she is a woman. From this point on she must hide her hair with the chador (a loose, black shawl covering the body from head to toe) and stop associating with boys. Hava, anxious to run out and play with best friend Hassan (Hassan Nabehan), cunningly uncovers a loophole. She won’t officially turn nine until noon, and it’s now 11am. Hava negotiates sixty precious minutes of playtime with her mother and grandmother, and sets out to savor her last hour of freedom.
Ahoo’s (Shabnam Toloui) situation is more overtly alarming. As a member of a women’s biking race, she is overtaken by a man on horseback. The man gallops alongside his frantically pedaling wife, taunting her and insisting that she has dishonored him and must return home. As mile after mile of pavement is consumed, Ahoo is confronted by members of her family and her village elders. The taunts become increasingly threatening, but Ahoo pedals on with obsessive vigor. Running from demons we can only begin to imagine.
The third and final episode is delivered with an element of whimsy, but is no less significant. Houra (Azizeh Seddighi) is a stooped, elderly woman who lands at an island airport and immediately hires a young boy to accompany her on a fantastic shopping spree. Houra has come into some money, and determined to buy everything she’s ever wanted and been denied. A refrigerator, king-size bed, lamp shades, table and chairs, samovar, and a washing machine are purchased, packaged, and connected to a cart in what becomes a parade of abundant extravagance. Once the items are purchased, Houra instructs the boy and his friends lay them out on the beach, so she can eyeball her new goods (most of which she has no idea how to use) and determine that she has forgotten nothing.
This trio of compelling anecdotes is rife with symbolism, but never weighted down by the abstract. Hava’s tale is a definition, an unwritten rule come to fruition, of the distinction between the acceptable behaviors of men and woman. Watching Hava’s charming innocence slowly dissolve is subtly sinister. For Ahoo, the loss of human rights is more complex, as she turns her back on the past and risks an uncertain, and undeniably ostracized, future. The sense of shame is palpable, and the image of black, chador-clad women participating in a pseudo Iranian Tour de France is startling. The three segments are tied together by a troublesome thread when one considers a life spent with little to no personal fulfillment, and a life destined to duplicate that void. Iran’s Kish Island, quite unlike the typical Iranian countryside, is lush and clear, leaving room for mental subtleties to flourish. Subtitles are sparse, creating an illusion of something missed.
Three critical turning points, pulsing with energy, fear, and determination. Being an American woman in the 21st Century has never looked better.
April 27-May 3, Towne 3 Theater, 1433 The Alameda, San Jose