A powerful statement about the social oppression of women in today’s Iran, Marziyeh Meshkini’s “The Day I Became a Woman” speaks bluntly about this long-taboo subject, which has been broached by other Iranian women directors but never before confronted so directly. Using vivid imagery and allegorical storytelling, Meshkini communicates a personal vision in terms all women (and certainly many men) can feel deeply. The wife and pupil of director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who produced and wrote current pic, and first a.d. on the films of Samira Makhmalbaf, she is a new star in the family talent center, the Makhmalbaf Film House. With a strong launch, this first feature could become one of the year’s most popular Iranian pics abroad.
Shot on Kish Island, film fully exploits the scenic locations and the local tribal traditions, which are harsher toward women than in the city. In first story, it is Hava’s (Fatemeh Cherag Akhar) ninth birthday. She longs to play with a little boy named Hassan, as she does every day, but Mom and Grandma are busy measuring her for not just a head scarf (she wears that already), but a floor-length black chador. It’s the last day she will play with boys on the beach. She shares a final lollipop with Hassan, himself imprisoned in his house with homework, in an intensely poignant scene.
The realism of “Hava” gives way to exhilarating fable in “Ahoo.” A young woman wearing a billowing chador (stage thesp Shabnam Toloui, one of the few pros actors) is pedaling madly in a women’s cycling race along the beach. Suddenly her husband gallops up on horseback and demands she come home. Ahoo refuses him and all the subsequent horsemen who scream for her to get off her bike — her father, the mullah (priest), the village elders, her brothers. Amusing and tragic at the same time, tale takes its pace from the women’s furious, nonstop pedaling, in a clear tip of the hat to Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s famous early film “The Cyclist,” an Iranian “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Final tale describes the shopping spree of an old woman, Hoora (the bright-eyed Azizeh Sedighi), on the duty-free island. Hobbling off the plane, she enlists an army of small boys with carts to take her through the glittering malls, where she buys refrigerators, stoves, furniture, makeup — all the things she wanted and never had in her life. Story’s surrealistic humor and modern trappings make it less touching than the other episodes, but it appropriately rounds off the three ages of woman.
Film benefits from fine technical work from cinematographers Ebrahim Ghafori and Mohammad Ahmadi and editors Maysam Makhmalbaf and Shahrzad Poya. Folk music is well used to contribute atmosphere and feeling.