The Day I Became A Woman

on April 06, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   A beautifully photographed collection of three vignettes featuring Iranian women at various stages in their lives, Marzieh Meshkini's directorial debut, "The Day I Became a Woman" is both hypnotic in its imagery and frustrating in its limitations. Bolstered by a powerful middle sequence, the weaker open and closing restrict the film from being a true breakout.

   The middle and most powerful story features a young woman (Shabnam Toloui) participating alternatively furiously and exhaustedly in an all-female bicycle race. A stunning contrast of old world and new, of clashing Middle East custom and Western commercialism, the girl is wrapped in the all encompassing black Iranian "chador" while racing atop a brand new top-of-the-line mountain bike. To complete the contrast, the fleet, somber black figure is pursued in turn by all the male members of her family, then of her village, each half-naked on horseback, alternatively beseeching and threatening the girl to withdraw from the race. In a burst of fury at the girl's refusal, the girl's husband divorces her while the two race along. The race takes place along a path by a mesmerizing, sparkling sea whose dual nature clearly beckons to freedom while also providing those without access to boats (all women) a natural prison.

   The first story features a young girl on her ninth birthday pleading for one more hour to play as a child before noon, when she will become a woman and assume all the repressive social customs that entails. The closing story is a heavy-handed tale of lost opportunity as an aged woman attempts to fulfill long-thwarted dreams by buying all the things she never had during her life.

   The non-professionalism of the cast hinder and help the film. The little girl of the opening sequence is both appealing and exhausting in her inability to project anything other than innocence. Meshkini frequently exacerbates the situation by allowing scenes to run on too long. Nevertheless, that same patient, drawn-out quality only makes the bike racing sequence more poetic and affecting. The third sequence makes a feeble attempt to link the sections, but only succeeds in creating more of a mystery around the second vignette.

   Written by Mishkini and her filmmaker husband Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who started a film school basically to teach his family the art of cinema, "The Day I Became a Woman" was Mishkini's thesis project and shows great promise for a directing furture. Starring Fatemeh Cherag Akhar, Shabnam Toloui and Azizeh Sedighi. Directed by Marzieh Meshkini. Written Marzieh Meshkini and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Produced by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. A Shooting Gallery release. Drama. Persian-language; subtitled. Running time: 79 min

Tags: Starring Fatemeh Cherag Akhar, Shabnam Toloui, Azizeh Sedighi. Directed by Marzieh Meshkini. Written Marzieh Meshkini, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Produced by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Shooting Gallery, Drama

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