I am going on the record as saying that were I afforded an unlimited amount of time, brain power and ability to master an understanding of cultural mores and language that I would wholly spill my time into understanding all things related to Iranian cinema. While it is not my primary focus or even one of my sub-research interests as I become more invested in my academic endeavors I am quite certain in my assertion that it has produced some of the best films in the past two decades, hovering almost entirely around the wonderful offerings of Abbas Kiarostami. However, he is far from the only director working in the country and others have produced keenly meta-cinematic works that manage to consider the state of identity in Iran both on a literal and metaphorical level, all lending in some degree to the impossible, yet perfect, blending of the realist and allegorical tradition of this countries cinematic output. I adore these works, A Moment of Innocence and Close-Up being two notable works, however, upon the discovery that there existed a film by an Iranian woman that had achieved equal status demanded its being sought out, or more accurately introduced to me by a professor, and the result was nothing short of an evocation on art and the nature of the self when it is in contrast to competing notions of what one should do in a society whose history is a maddening conflation of contradictions as well as rich and proud history. The Day I Became a Woman is the poetic and magical work by Marzieh Meshkini and it is nothing short of pure cinematic perfection. Told in a tripartite narrative, this film manages to cleverly navigate tenuous boundaries of temporal and spatial existence to show that perhaps not everything is as idyllic in a country whose global exoticization, paired with a particularly tense relationship with the "western" world has resulted in a cinematic experience so inherently unique that to place another layer of non-normative identity upon it causes it to take on an ethereal and outright moving quality. If cinema truly has the ability to move beyond the real into another layer of understanding, The Day I Became a Woman is the backbone to such an aesthetic argument.
Clearly divided between three stories, The Day I Became a Woman begins with the experiences of Haveh (Fatemah Cherag Akhar) a girl on the island of Kish who has just turned nine years old, therefore making her subject to the wearing of traditional chador (Islamic headdress for Iran). Confused by this demand, enforced by her grandmother and own mother, Haveh simply wants to spend the day playing with her friend Hassan (Hassan Nebah). While she cannot put off her becoming woman she is able to bargain for an extra hour of play with Hassan that is limited by his having to complete homework, thus resulting in her having only time to share an exchange of a lollipop with Hassan before being placed in the chador and carted off by her mother. The second story centers on Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui) a young woman who is shown competing in a bicycle race with other woman on the island and while she seems content with simply riding with the pack when a her husband approaches on horseback demanding that she give up racing and return home, the panicked Ahoo continues to ride forward never stopping or appearing to consider giving up. Indeed, as her husband and other men from her tribe approach demanding that she stop, Ahoo drives forward blowing past all the other women in her race, however, when the tribe gets their leaders involved, including some of Ahoo's brothers, their blocking of the road prevent her from moving forward, becoming a thing in the background of another riders line of sight. The third portion of the story focuses on Hoora, or Houra (Azizeh Sedighi) an elderly woman landing in Kish in hopes of doing some extensive duty free shopping. Houra, complete with a series of strings on her fingers to remind her of the items she needs, begins accruing furniture and appliances at an alarming rate, her source of money is confusing to all involved. Yet when she completes her list, save for one item on her finger which she cannot recollect, she is not quite ready to leave, therefore she sets up her wares on the beach in a sort of house without walls much to the elation of the boys she has hired as help and the confusion of two women who have approached on bicycle, purportedly having just finished the race involving Ahoo. Regardless, Houra has the boys build her a raft that allows her to float her goods onto a ship in the distance skyline, all the while the newly chador donning Haveh looking on with an enigmatic look that suggests both despondence and curiosity.
Time, space and identity are all clear themes within Meshkini's stunning film. However, to some degree, these are also central issues in pretty much every film, although uniquely so to Iranian cinema and its bizarre world of hyper-censorship. I, however, am fascinated with the ways in which Meshkini uses movement to suggest something transitory, if not constantly liminal. The figures in her film seem to be caught in an impossible space between the world of representation and the reality the viewers are living. Take for example, the innocent, yet highly sexualized sharing of a lollipop between Haveh and Hassan. The continuity in this shot is off, but it would appear to be a choice on the part of Meshkini, as the two are now split off from the world, the cutting of the scene never showing the two children (or new adults?) in the same frame, it would break censorship, yet through a stroke of delightful precociousness, the two share in an intimate encounter, overlaid by suckling sounds on the overdub soundtrack that moves between the diagetic and non-diagetic simultaneously. The two move in impossible ways because to depict them in a normal encounter would be to face off against strict censorship. Incidentally, even in its cut off manner, censors still suggested that Meshkini remove the scene altogether. Ahoo's movement is perhaps most evocative, because the constant shots from the forefront of her biking towards the screen invoke the same sense of terror that occurred in Arrival at the Train Station or the Klans ride in Birth of a Nation. However, what is impending and fear inducing, is instead a shared encounter between Ahoo fleeing an oppressive past and the viewers, assumedly the women encountering the film. The intercuts of Ahoo's peddling feet and the clomping of horses chasing the rebellious Ahoo suggest a movement both transitionally, but also metaphorically as she becomes animalistic in her flight from illogical oppression, but more importantly, an unseen predator. Finally, it is worth quickly noting Houra's own movement which is decidedly more aided by the mechanical, whether it be her landing in the space on a plane or the aid of her extended wheelchair/pushcart, Houra represents a figure whose movement is figuratively disembodied and requires the help of others. Her female identity overlaid by this and a desire to consume all that she never had speaks to immobility of women in the space of cinema and culture in wild and transgressive ways. Again it is worth noting that the film was made within censorship restrictions, but manages to knowingly contradict them at every opportunity.
Key Scene: The lollipop scene is seriously one of the most complex of cinematic encounters I have ever witnessed and this is in a film full of visually transgressive commentary.
The DVD transfer is not great, but aside from a Korean region 3 DVD it is the only option and it looks phenomenal regardless. As such buying a copy is a MUST.