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'Day I Became A Woman, The'

Beyond the veil: Three ages of woman unfold in Iranian film

Friday, April 06, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Iran isn't even mentioned on the list of countries with the most Academy Award nominations for best foreign-language films. France tops the roster with 30 and it's followed by the usual suspects: Italy, Spain and Sweden.

'The Day I Became A Woman'

RATING: Unrated but PG in nature for subject matter

STARRING: Shabnam Toloui

DIRECTOR: Marzieh Meshkini



But Iran has become a source of distinctive and critically praised films, such as "A Time for Drunken Horses," "The Color of Paradise" and "The White Balloon." Add to that list "The Day I Became a Woman," three short films that present snapshots of life as a woman -- including a girl (Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar) whom society decrees is an adult. The subtitled movie opens today at the Loews Waterfront as part of the Shooting Gallery Series.

The first story is about that girl, Havva. She awakens on her ninth birthday and is told now that she's a woman, she cannot play with boys and must wear a traditional chador, an oversize scarf that serves as head covering, veil and shawl. Yesterday, she was a girl and had her freedom. Today, she is a woman and doesn't.

But, proving herself a shrewd negotiator, she argues if she was born at noon, she should have until that hour to be a child. Her grandmother, who warns God won't forgive her if she crosses that boundary, shows her how to tell time with a stick wedged into the sand. When the shadow disappears, it will be time to go home. When the shadow disappears, her life will change.

The second story is about a woman named Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui) who is competing in a bike race, much to the red-hot anger of her husband, family and elders. Her spouse appears on horseback next to the bicycle trail to order her off the bike and back to their marriage. When she defiantly refuses to stop, her husband vows to divorce her -- then and there.

To the others, who resemble old-fashioned nuns with their black fabric billowing in the breeze, the husband chauvinistically asks, "Why are all you riding? Don't you have a man?"

The final tale is about an elderly, hunched woman (Azizeh Seddighi) who arrives at Kish International Airport and hires a local boy to chauffeur her around a very modern mall and shopping district as she engages in a spending spree. Snippets of fabric are tied around her fingers to remind her of all the things she always wanted -- and now can afford.

"All my life, I wanted cold water," she says, which is why a refrigerator is her first purchase. Leading a picturesque parade of boys and men bearing large cardboard boxes, she stops at the beach to survey her goods and figure out what she has forgotten. The sight of a stocked refrigerator and ironing board on the sand is as shocking as it is surprising and memorable. It's a telling tableau certain to tickle the viewer with its incongruity.

Iranian Marzieh Meshkini, whose husband wrote the stories she shaped and directed, says in the film's production notes that the three characters could represent a single woman. The second woman could be the first girl, now that she's grown up and wants to experience everything for herself. The old lady could be the same woman who lost her innocence in childhood, her means of advancement in her 20s and now craves gadgets and appliances that she can afford -- but not understand or truly use.

"The Day I Became a Woman," shot on the Persian Gulf island of Kish, uses mainly nonprofessionals although three pros turn up in the middle story. The children in the first and third stories are especially charming in their unpracticed manners; the young girl toys with her hair and occasionally stumbles over her words and the boys on the beach delight in playing with the old lady's vacuum cleaner or jumping on her bed.

This movie's appeal lies in the juxtaposition, strength and simplicity of the images. A girl worrying as the sun moves overhead. A wife speeding toward, she hopes, her freedom. An elderly woman with the white, frilly wedding dress she will never wear. Powerful snapshots all, transcending the language barrier.

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