Daughters of Malakeh

A stingingly insightful and important docu on life within Iranian society.

With: Maryam Manesh, Ghazal Manesh, Sharog Heshmat Manesh. (Farsi dialogue)

A stingingly insightful and important docu on life within Iranian society, “Daughters of Malakeh” is an intimate domestic portrait, and at the same time a revolutionary one: Although they never presume as much, helmers Jet Homoet and Sharog Heshmat Manesh have captured social upheaval in microcosm. Festival play should be robust, but the film will have a difficult time without major support. Enlightened cable outlets should pounce.

At the ripe old age of 45, helmer Manesh’s sister, Maryam, suddenly announces she’s getting married — to Akbar, who seems a bit older than she is. That this is an unusual situation for the family does make it peculiar to Iran. Moreover, Maryam’s sense of independence creates conflict: She has her own home and a job; earlier in her life, an engagement fell apart because her fiance was too much of a traditionalist for her taste. Maryam’s determination to get married according to her rules, rather than ironclad traditions, create no end of stress in a situation that’s already tense. Maryam isn’t “Bridezilla,” but as any family knows, weddings cause anxiety.

“Daughters of Malakeh” possesses the kind of intimacy that could be accomplished probably only by a family member: Manesh himself is in many of the scenes, and Homoet is clearly well known within the household. The viewer is immersed in the daily life of the Manesh clan, which includes another unmarried sister, Ghazal, who is even more single-minded than Maryam and, one suspects, destined for protracted spinsterhood. But one can also see in these women a gradual eroding of the misogynist bylaws by which marriages, among other things, are conducted in Iran. One of Maryam’s conditions is that in lieu of a sizable dowry, the prenup should say she has the right to divorce her husband, should the marriage not work out. But under Iranian law, only husbands can divorce wives, and the state supersedes any other legal agreement. Will this bride still walk down the aisle?

More importantly, can such an atrophied legal system survive in an increasingly Westernized world? Or in a country so subtly matriarchal as Iran’s? The imams may be male, but the day-to-day life of the country, a la “Daughters of Malakeh,” at least, is ruled by the hand that rocks the cradle. Manesh’s mother is certainly in control of the engagement preparations; Manesh’s father, meanwhile, sits by idly, and somewhat comically. During one terrific sequence, Maryam is followed to work in the morning as she makes the kind of commuter trek familiar the world over. Except when she gets to the subway, a “women’s only” car pulls into the station, and the women promptly claw their way aboard, like any similar mob of men. It’s one of the film’s better editorial moments.

The warmth and comedy of “Daughters of Malakeh” are effective, but what really resonates is the defiance of this diminutive bride-to-be in the face of ignorance and inequality, and at least loosening a brick in the wall of oppression; in this small way, the docu is incendiary.

Homoet’s camerawork is exceptional amid a mixed production package.

Daughters of Malakeh

Production: A Bonanza Films and Ikon Television presentation in association with the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, Netherlands Film Fund, CoBo Fund. (International sales: Bonanza Films, Amsterdam). Produced by J.B. Macrander. Directed, written by Jet Homoet, Sharog Heshmat Manesh.

Crew: Camera, Homoet; editor, Danniel Danniel; music, Behzad Sanati; sound, Marco Vermass; line producer, Harmen Jalvingh. Reviewed at Hot Docs Film Festival, Toronto, May 4, 2011. Running time: 78 MIN.

With: With: Maryam Manesh, Ghazal Manesh, Sharog Heshmat Manesh. (Farsi dialogue)

More Film

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content