The Day I Became A Woman

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Another sliver of allegorical intent from the new Iranian cinema, this debut feature by Marziyeh Meshkini, the wife of director Mohsen Makmalbaf (Gabbeh), is divided into three stories. The first concerns a little girl on her ninth birthday, the day according to Islamic law on which she becomes a woman and so must don the traditional hair-covering chador. More importantly to her, it’s also the day she must quit playing with her young male friend Hassan.

The second is about a woman whose insistence on finishing a bicycle race becomes first an act of defiance against her husband, then her male relatives and finally her whole clan. The last episode, gently surreal, features an old woman who uses a sudden bounty to buy all the things she’s always wanted — couches, a stove, a refrigerator — and then proceeds to set up house on a sandy beach full of children.

One often gets the feeling while watching Iranian films of messages struggling to emerge from between the lines, of societal critiques embodied in the plights of children and grown-up discontent expressed in what’s most obviously left unsaid. It’s an unsatisfying feeling and sometimes a little creepy. Woman is apparently a triptych of protest against the extremes of Iran’s patriarchy, but it’s very low-keyed one, particularly in the episodes of the child and the old woman, where concerns of freedom are subsumed by meandering narratives.

The central story, though, has an impact both visually, in its depiction of the loneliness of the long-distance bicycle racer, and (for a change) viscerally, with its long-shot view of the poor woman’s fate. This is protest with an absurdist edge and it’s a sequence which makes the film well worth seeing.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Star Rochester Hills (200 Barclay Circle, Rochester Hills) as part of the Shooting Gallery Film Series. Call 248-853-2260.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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