Following Tamineh Milani’s exuberantly feminist melodrama “Two Women,” “The Hidden Half” reprises the theme of women’s complexly interwoven intellectual and sentimental lives, boldly touching on many controversial subjects as far as Iranian attitudes in regard to women go. Unfortunately, pic’s talky, convoluted storyline works against the drama to keep auds at arm’s length. Action spans 20 years and is told in a series of flashbacks as a husband reads his wife’s diary-confession, in which she asserts her right to be herself and to have loved another man. The confused script makes this a tough film for auds to dig into, but interest in the director and subject could land pic some fest slots.
Star Niki Karimi takes on the difficult role of Fereshteh, a demure housewife married to a judge (Atilla Pesiani) on his way to see a woman prisoner accused of murder. He doesn’t know that Fereshteh, too, is a former political militant. To make him understand the woman’s situation, she writes a long letter detailing her own past, which he reads on the road.
Back in the ’70s, she was a Maoist college student linked to an all-female cell. Outfitted with Chinese army jackets and Che Guevara posters, the women hand out political flyers, dodging both the Shah’s police and Islamic militants. Fereshteh falls for a smooth-talking older man, Khosro (Mohammad Nikbin), who returns her feelings.
Milani fights an uphill battle with the ’70s story, which is supposed to illustrate pic’s main theme of conjugal relations and keeping/revealing secrets within marriage. There is too much to glue together in this collage of a film, which does a lot more telling with words than showing with images.
As always, Karimi is a compelling screen presence, though all the main roles lack a core believability. Tech work is standard, but pity the costume designer who has to show Maoist girls wearing scarves and modest attire as they debate the revolution.