Day I Became A Woman

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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Fatemeh Cherag Akhar, Shabnam Toloui, Azizeh Sedighi, Hassan Nebhan
Director: Marziyeh Meshkini

Having stacked up awards at Venice and Toronto, Marziyeh Meshkini’s film school graduation project is split into three stories focussing on the different ages of woman in rural Iran. Meshkini, who is married to Mohsen Makhmalbaf (THE SILENCE, THE DOOR) and worked as Samira Makhmalfbaf’s assistant on THE APPLE and BLACKBOARDS, says the film describes the war of tradition against modernism.

The first section tells the story of Hava, a little girl living with her family in a house on the banks of the Persian Gulf. It’s the morning of her ninth birthday and her life has changed over night. If she’s to leave the family’s courtyard she’s to make sure a family member accompanies her and she must always make sure that she’s veiled in public. Hava, nor her best friend, who happens to be a little boy, can understand why everything has changed and want to continue playing the game they started the day before. Bringing her mother’s attention to the fact that Hava was born at midday, her grandmother suggests that the little girl can have one more morning to play with her friend unaccompanied on the beach. And so Hava sets off in search of ice cream and sweets and the little boy who she will no longer be allowed to play with after midday.

Ahoo, a young married woman is the heroine of the second section of the film. Despite being fully veiled she’s taking part in a ladies cycle race along the coast. Determined to win, Ahoo ignores the repeated requests of her husband, father and village elders – all on horseback – to give up the race and come home. Afraid of humiliation her husband insists that he will have to order a divorce – but Ahoo, powerful in her silence continues to compete, defiant in her determination.

The third and final section of the film deals with an old woman in a wheelchair who after a life serving others has finally found freedom in being alone without family to care for. She’s decided to spend her money on all the consumer goods she was never permitted to have – television, smart clothes, three-piece suite and even a dishwasher. She asks the local airport porters – little boys with carts – to carry the items to the beach in a pied piper like procession where she sets up home on the beach.

We know very little about Iran in the west, but what we do know comes largely from the wonderful films that have come out of the country in the last few decades. Without these many would imagine that all women are veiled, kept inside, repressed and unfulfilled. Iran is changing and women like Meshkini help to bring a more accurate view of the country to western audiences. But things will not change overnight unlike Hava and her world as she comes of age on her ninth birthday. “Young people have to allow the old generation to go through with its life and then respectfully pass away, before they can bring about changes that fit in with their world view.”

4 out of 6 stars