Writer/director Nasser Rafaie's film, while perhaps of limited American dramatic interest, is without question a shockingly important work of political commentary on the advancement of female civil and moral rights in a country that, despite reputation, is very close to being a first-world economic and political power. Structured (or unstructured, if you will) not unlike a Henry Jaglom or Mike Leigh film, “Exam” plays in real time in the courtyard of a school about one hour before a college entrance exam at an all-girl's school in what appears to be the suburbs of Tehran. Over the course of the film, dozens of small, tapestry-like vignettes are played out, each one representing a definitive social point of view that subtly discusses the plight, progress and future of women in Iran through careful dialogue, metaphor and visual filmmaking.
Casually transitioning from group to group and scenario to scenario, director Rafaie is careful as well to support the country's political agenda and articulate some scorn for the West (in the form of a group of “West Side Story”-style teen males in a Buick who show up to the school looking for trouble) and reformist thought, while still getting its true message to the target audience.
A picture of universal themes tailored to a forced agenda and told with the simplest of cinematic tools, “Exam” is a nevertheless a window into a world few if any of us in the West understand. Starring Raya Nassiri, Farzin Aghaie and Ali Hosseini. Directed and written by Nasser Rafaie. Produced by Davoud Rashidi. No distributor set. Drama. Farsi-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 80 min.