By DEBORAH YOUNG
Both a fascinating glimpse into the recent presidential elections in Iran and a devastating portrait of women’s role in society, “Our Times” is a refreshing documentary antidote to a wave of sociological fiction films covering much the same ground. First part follows a group of 22-year-old college girls who opened a campaign office for the successful reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami. Second half explores the life of an unsuccessful presidential candidate (there were 711, of whom 48 were women), Arezoo Bayat, a 25-year-old divorced mother. Outspoken director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (“The May Lady,” “Under the Skin of the City”) paints an unforgettable picture of women in today’s Iran, emphasizing their indomitable determination to have a voice in politics despite the cards being stacked against them. Pic should put in a lot of festival mileage.
Leafleting for Khatami on the streets prior to the election, a group of high-spirited young women refuse the men’s suggestion that they wear a more conservative headdress. “We’re voting for freedom,” one says. To skeptical bystanders who doubt whether any elected president can carry out reforms against the will of Iran’s powerful clergy, they confidently defend the limited results Khatami has achieved in his first term: “He does as much as he can.”
Arezoo’s story shows how difficult life can be for a woman without a husband. After divorcing two men addicted to drugs, she’s now sole breadwinner for her blind mother and her daughter. The little girl attends a special school for kids without fathers. Arezoo holds down two grueling jobs to make ends meet, while aspiring to take college courses. Her landlord is throwing them out and no one will rent to a single woman. She’s fired for taking time off to go apartment-hunting. Yet, at a point where many a fiction film would end in tragedy, this real-life heroine, beautiful, self-confident and emotional, decides to run for president.