Friday, April 8, 2011

The Day I Became a Woman - Flight of Womanhood

Depicting the different phases of a woman's life, Iranian director Marzieh Meshkini's debut feature is a triptych signifying the oppression of women in a strictly patriarchal society. Based on a story by her husband, one of Iran's premier filmmakers Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 'The Day I Became a Woman' is a lyrical tale of the status of women in a country where their relevance is relegated to the suppression they are subjected to.

The first story 'Hava' is the tale of a young girl on her ninth birthday, when her mother and grandmother are ready to don the black chador on her, as her time has come to embrace womanhood according to Islamic law. From this day on, her world of innocent play with boys has to meet an end. Hava seeks one last playtime with her best friend Hassan and is granted that as she was born at noon and till the shadow disappears from a stick planted on the ground, she will not officially turn nine. The camera follows her last moments of freedom where she shares a lollipop with her friend. An impending sense of doom hangs in the air where a child will be removed too soon from innocence and her life of subjugation will set in. The black chador signifies forever the loss of free play.

Hereon we are transported to the second powerful tale of 'Ahoo'.  A man on horseback is chasing a group of women in a cycle race. His wife Ahoo, is a participant. At first the man pleads with her to stop cycling with her bad leg and then threatens her with divorce if she doesn't get off the devil's mount immediately. There is very little by way of dialogue. Ahoo is mute to the threats. Her reply is in the fierce determination which shines on her face and in her furious pedaling. The husband gets the old priest who had married them and later her family members to put a stop to her disobedience. The priest performs the dreaded verbal divorce on horseback itself. The sad plight of womanhood. With the desert on one side and the sea on the other, a bunch of chador clad women pedaling away ferociously, the segment is a visual feast. The lengthy dialogues and emotional clutter are done away with. Ahoo's expressions are enough of a glimpse into her assumably miserable married life.

The final part 'Hoora' talks of an old woman who gets off the plane and finds a group of boys to wheel her into a glittering mall and then proceeds to buy all the materialistic things she has been deprived of her entire life. A refrigerator, TV, furniture, cookware, all things to beautify a house, are carted by the group of boys into the beach where they wait for boats to carry off the goods. The sequence thereafter adopts  a surreal dreamlike state. Two young woman approach the old lady asking for all the worldly goods, to give as dowry for their marriage. But the old lady's fierce attachment to the things hint of the way of women in her society, being deprived.

'The Day I Became a Woman' sends out a strong message, of the treacherous journey of women in a terrain of subjugation at the hands of men.  The stories are set in the southern part of Iran, on the idyllic Kish island. The focus is on the tribes settled there. Ever since the reign of the Islamic fundamentalist Khomeini, the women in Iran have being relegated to the background. The most basic social rights have become a battle being fought for to this day. The worldview of the Islamic fundamentalists describe women as a source of sin who must be controlled at all times. Hava, Ahoo and Hoora embody the victims of this warped belief.

Meshkini uses a unique voice for her debut. Each tale is punctuated with very few words. There is none of those lengthy dialogues, debates and explanations which often plague this genre. The visuals are stunning with the scenes taking on tones of magic realism. The sparse emotional landscape of the movie makes it all the more effective. We don't know the back stories, where these women come from to occupy their brief time on film, and what shall eventually become of them. Yet we are well equipped to make an educated guess. Some thoughts don't need to be spelt out, their implication is chilling enough.

Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play
In Farsi with English subtitles
Originally released in 2000

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