Persian Rugs, Woven From Wool and Despair - "Daughters of the Sun" Review

By Dave Kehr The New York Times

"Daughters of the Sun" is being billed as an Iranian "Boys Don't Cry," but it takes a lot of wishful thinking to transform this ponderous, relentlessly grim depiction of social servitude in rural Iran into a Western-style disquisition on identity politics.

As were the 2001 Iranian film "Baran" and last year's "Osama" from Afghanistan, "Daughters of the Sun" is about a teenage girl forced to disguise herself as a boy in order to survive. In the urban "Baran," the girl shaves her head and puts on pants to become an assistant at a construction site, where one of the workers feels strangely attracted to the newcomer. In the gravelly wilderness of "Daughters," it's the young woman's father who cuts off her hair and sends her to a neighboring village to work for a rugmaker, supervising three girls as they patiently weave carpets from thick rolls of dyed wool.

The young woman, Amanagol (played with unshakable gravity by Altinay Ghelich Taghani), barely speaks in this film by Maryam Shahriar, communicating instead with her large eyes. Locked in a room at night, hardly allowed to glimpse the sunlight during the day, Amanagol, who calls herself by the masculine name Aman, is treated like a domestic animal by her cruel employer. When one of the girls cuts a finger and bleeds on a rug in progress, the boss beats Aman as punishment for not supervising the workers closely enough.

One of the girls, taking Aman's long silences for sympathy, begs Aman to run away with her and spare her the horror of an arranged marriage to a much older distant cousin.

Shot as a series of nearly motionless tableaus, "Daughters of the Sun," which opens today at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, manages to be both obvious and enigmatic. Ms. Shahriar never lets us know what transgression caused Amanagol's father to banish her, nor do we know if Aman's would-be wife is attracted to her because she realizes Aman is a woman or because she does not. With her shaved head and staring eyes, Aman actually looks as if she had been stripped entirely of her sexuality, like a Holocaust victim. What does seem certain is that a bootleg print of "Yentl" is still making its way through Iran's filmmaking underground, leaving a wide trail of influence behind it.

Originally Published July 29, 2004

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