The Day I Became A Woman Review
The Day I Became A Woman takes a look at the lives of three women in modern day Iran examining what it means to be a woman in Iranian society. The film is divided into three short tales that are simply told yet powerful and allegorical.
The first story tells the tale of Hava, who has just turned nine years old and must now put her childhood behind here and put on the chaddor, the veil that signifies her becoming a woman and begin a closed-off life of living indoors. The young girl has one hour left before noon to play with her friend, a young boy, and she measures out the time she has left as a child using a stick in the sand. The story is quite simple and beautiful and the discovery in the accompanying text interview on the DVD that this tradition is not widespread but confined to a few rural areas of Iran only slightly lessens the impact of the message.
In the second story the message is much more immediate, obvious and striking. Ahoo is taking part in a women’s bicycle race along the coast on the same Persian island of Kish, the cyclist's black robes forming a strong contrast against the luminous green sea and white sand. Ahoo is pursued by her husband and family on horse-back, threatening her with divorce and calling for her to turn back and not shame her family in this way. The contrast between tradition and modernity is marked between the beating of the horses hooves and the frantic pedalling of the girls on the bicycles, in their black robes but wearing jeans and some of them listening to a Walkman. Very little happens in the story, just the painful feeling that the forces of tradition are too binding to leave behind and the images that this story leaves in the mind are powerful.
In the third story, an old woman Hoora has inherited a lot of money and wants to buy all the material goods that she has been denied for so long. The message here is just as clear as the other two films. All the appearances of modernity are there in Iran, but consumerism is just another tool used to bind women. The old woman is free to buy all the household items that she desires, but her mind is still bound by traditional thoughts and conditioning, symbolised by her rejecting a glass tea-pot as being “shameless”.
The film was co-written and directed by Marziyeh Meshkini, the wife of Moshen Makhmalbaf, one of the most important figures in Iranian cinema. The Day I Became A Woman is her first film as a director and is more or less a graduation project, having served her apprenticeship at the Makhmalbaf Film House. In many ways it looks like a film project, demonstrating how to pace a story, how to use camera shots and angles to move it along and how to use symbolism to underline messages. The direction is very good, certainly better than workman-like, but at times the symbolism looks a little forced and obvious. The points that the film makes are important and well put across, but the film itself with its fragmented structure of three short 25 minute films feels slight. Each of the stories have almost made their entire point in the first 5 minutes, (in the case of Ahoo’s story, with a single image) and the remaining time just fills out the stories with images which further underline the point but are admittedly powerful and striking.
With an anamographic 1.66:1 transfer, Artificial Eye have come up trumps once again with the image quality on this release. The picture is bright, clear and free from digital artefacts or anything more than a couple of minor dust spots. Colours are strong and the contrast is perfectly pitched to convey some of the more arresting images in the film, such as the bicycle race along the coast, the old woman on the beach and the brightness of sun, sea and sand. Subtitles are clear and removable.
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and is merely functional. The soundtrack is one element of the film that doesn’t seem to have been laboured upon, and the nature of the film doesn’t really require much action to be conveyed through the sound.
The extras on the DVD are made up of the usual Artificial Eye text extras, which are always useful and informative. With this film we have a Text statement by director, a brief summary of the themes of the film and a longer Text interview with Marziyeh Meshkini. A Filmography is also included. Although this is Marziyeh Meshkini’s first film as a director, she has worked as an assistant on Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboards and The Apple.
The film’s obliqueness with metaphorical and sometimes almost surreal imagery, reminiscent of co-writer Moshen Mahkmalbaf’s own recent film, Kandahar, make it less immediate and less exciting than Jafar Panahi’s powerful and brilliant The Circle, a film which deals much more directly with the theme of being a modern woman in a traditional male-dominated society. Whether it has any impact on Iranian society is doubtful, but the fact that women are in a position to make films like this is a step in the right direction. As the film demonstrates however, giving women freedom to direct their own lives is one thing, liberating a mindset conditioned by years of tradition and strict laws is an altogether greater challenge.