To Know a Veil - "The Day I Became a Woman" Review

By David N. Butterworth

"The Day I Became a Woman" attempts to illustrate the difficulties of womanhood in Iran through the stories of a young girl, an adult woman and an elderly woman, but in mostly un-involving fashion.

The Iranian film "The Day I Became a Woman" (Roozi Keh Zan Showdam) is a promising trifle. It consists of three vignettes that highlight the plight of women during various stages of life. It starts out with a story about a nine-year-old girl, follows it up with a story about a married, middle-aged woman, and closes with a story about an elderly grandmother.

The final chapter is the most intriguing of the three - it has a creativity and levity that's missing from the first two chapters. But even it contains some of the same distracting elements which plague its predecessors: a naivety of viewpoint, a sledgehammer approach to metaphor, and a pacing that tests both physical and mental limits.

For all of its shortsightedness, however, "The Day I Became a Woman" often hints at a future fine filmmaker at work.

In the opening vignette, Hava is about to turn nine. In Iran, this signifies entry into womanhood, a time Hava will no longer be allowed to associate with boys. This is particularly hard on Hava, who wishes to hang out with her best friend, Hassan. As it turns out, Hava doesn't become a woman until noon, so she has one more hour to play with Hassan - her grandmother gives her a stick and tells her that when its shadow disappears, her time is up. Hassan, unfortunately, isn't allowed to play with Hava because he has homework to do. Hava buys some candy and they share a lollipop through the bars of a window which, given how long first-time director Marziyeh Meshkini lingers on this scene, no doubt breaks all sorts of taboos in her homeland.

The second story focuses on a bicycle race. It's not obvious it's a race at first, just two dozen women, all dressed in black, billowing chador, out for a ride on their flashy, ergonomically-designed racing bikes. It's a nice image. Then two men on horseback ride up and begin insisting that one of the women, Ahoo, dismount. She refuses, adamantly. As the race continues, the situation escalates to the point where the tribe's elders become involved and the woman's husband threatens to divorce her if she doesn't accede to his tyrannical demands.

The third and final segment features an old woman who returns from a trip and begins to spend her large inheritance on "everything she never had growing up." With the help of some willing boys, she turns a beach into a veritable IKEA - tables, chairs, and a four-poster bed litter the sandy stretch, as do home appliances of every size and kind. As the grandma buys something new, she removes a knotted reminder from one of her fingers; yet by the time she's done, there's still one red ribbon left. Even though she asks a number of the boys if they would like to be her son, she cannot remember what the final ribbon represents.

In this way, all three stories are rather unsubtle in their presentation of the underlying themes of the restrictions placed on women in Iranian society. While Hava's tale is slow and un-involving, the second story is, perhaps, the most interesting culturally but its significance is hampered by the repetitive nature of the race itself and the conflicts it generates. In the film's closing segment, Meshkini mostly gets it right with a nice balance between poignancy and humor. The film is short - a mere 74 minutes - but the bicycle race sequence in particular drags it out for much longer (or so it seems).

Although certainly pretty to look at - all three stories take place alongside the mint-green Persian Gulf - "The Day I Became a Woman" is not wholly successful, but it does have enough intriguing elements to warrant a viewing. Hang in there and stay until the end, though.

Originally Published April 9, 2001

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