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The Day I Became A Woman ( Not Rated)
Shooting Gallery
Official Site
Director: Marzieh Meshkini
Producer: Makhmalbaf Film House, Iran
Written by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Cast: Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar, Hassan Nabehan, Shahr Banou Sisizadeh, Ameneh Passand, Shabnam Toloui, Cyrus Kahouri Nejad, Mahram Zeinal Zadeh, Nourieh Mahiguiran, Azizeh Seddighi, Badr Irouni Nejad

Rating: out of 5

Consisting of three stories that ultimately intersect in a mundane, unspectacular, and uncontrived way, The Day I Became A Woman is a little gem. The movie portrays Islam’s effect on women’s lives as just as cloistered and repressive as many non-Moslems, especially Westerners, might think but be too PC to depict.

The first episode, “Hava,” takes place on the title character’s ninth birthday, the day she becomes a woman and must put away childish things. On this day Hava (Akhtar) must stay home and don the chador and may no longer freely associate with her best playmate, Hassan (Nabehan). Using the kind of religious technicality so often available to those who live by the Law instead of the Spirit, Hava is allowed one final hour of unsupervised girlhood.

The “Ahoo” episode is especially interesting for its bald depcition of a how much a wife’s life belongs to her husband, her community, her father, uncles, brothers--nearly everyone except herself. Ahoo (Toloui) rides her bicycle in a women’s marathon, even though her husband forbade her. The story of Ahoo biking by the sunny seaside (Kish Island, where the film was shot, is so beautiful that I longed to be with those women on one of those bicycles.) with other veiled, completely covered women is fascinating not only for the wave after wave of proprietary males who gallop up, ordering her to quit, but also for the non-reactions of her fellow bikers. If this is a metaphor for Iranian feminism and sisterhood, woe betide!

Finally, “Hoora” is a woman in complete, if baffling, control of her own life. Armed with a pocket full of money, Hoora (Seddighi) wraps colorful strings around each finger to remind her of the purchases she intends to make, then heads to town. Enlisting the aid of young porters, the elderly Hoora makes her way from store to store, buying all the things she’s always wanted. It’s not clear where Hoora’s money comes from and her solitary state is only alluded to. While she could hardly be expected to head for college or the boardroom, it’s depressing that, after a life of deferred dreams, her desires have to do with consumer goods instead of self-determination or empowerment (as they are understood in the West).

It’s like watching the ages of Iranian Woman: The film moves from girlhood (Hava) to wifehood (Ahoo; no other option is presented) to solitary old age (Hoora). Meshkini and her husband, Makhmalbaf, tell very interesting stories that almost seem more truly foreign for their leisurely pace than their content. Clearly these folks did not grow up on “Sesame Street” or hyperactive MTV. The first segment felt almost real-time with Hava’s last hour of freedom, though of course it wasn’t.

These stories show female existence as such enforcedly small lives, that I had to wonder how these films were received back home. Well, mostly they’re not. So far only one theater in her native Iran has screened The Day I Became A Woman. What a shame. Meshkini’s films are so fine that I’d like not only like to see them again, I’d like to read them.

—Roxanne Bogucka, an Action Grrl


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