Meshkini’s decision to label thesections of the film as tales immediately invites the viewer to consider thatthese stories are fiction, perhaps even in some way fables. The decision toalert the viewer to the films own fictionality makes this a self-reflexivefilm. German playwright Bertolt Brecht would often uses techniques similar tothis in his plays in an attempt to distance the viewer from the action in anattempt to encourage an objective reading of the film, often in hopes that theaudience would be pushed to a reaction that would change their way of doingthings. Bertolt Brecht believes that emotion blurs our rationale in assessing asituation and that these two things cannot exist in the same sphere, hence whythere was an attempt by him to alienate the viewer. Meshkini using cue cardsand the terminological choice of tale may be used for the same purpose here, aswell as alerting the viewer to the fact there are multiple interpretations ofthe film by foregrounding its constructed nature, particularly subtle feministreadings.
The three tales contain a thematic link,but are not linked in a causal manner. In Hollywood pictures, the form of anarrative tends to rely on causality to explain actions, but Iranian cinemabreaks this convention, perhaps in an attempt to loosen their links to theWestern world even further. The Day IBecame A Woman introduces arbitrary events and does not have a clearresolution. The ending features a meeting of the three tales, but not in a waywhere they really overlap, just in a way where they have existed in the sameworld as we have known all along. The final shot of the film echoes the openingshot of the film, with a close-up of the sail of a raft, in an effectbracketing the events together, and suggesting a permanence and continuality tothe condition of womanhood in Iran.
Despite this, there is no real resolution,mainly just an ending.Theuse of children is a common feature of Iranian cinema. In this instance,perhaps it is to invite the viewer to see things from an innocent, naïve pointof view.
Iranian cinema is viewed more on the international art circuit thandomestically in Iran, so seeing things from this perspective may also invite Westernaudiences to admit that they are confused by some of the Islamic traditions,much as a child living the situation might be, which might change aninterpretation of the things to follow. Accepting there may be an ignorance and0pening your mind to the content of the film can only be a good thing –Meshkini intended to make the audience view the film in an objective manner.She would be aware that this film is for a dual audience, and this complicatesthe way we see the spectator. There is a dual address in the film to make itsuitable for both international and domestic audiences and the use of childrenis a way to encourage participation by a Western audience without patronisingeither party. Hava is reluctant to growup, asking her mother and grandmother for all the time they will allow her toplay with her best friend, who happens to be male. After this time they will nolonger be allowed to spend time together due to Islamic conventions of modesty.From now on Hava must also wear a chador and cover her hair, but we see thatshe does not value the significance of this and actually swaps it with a boy onthe beach for a plastic toy fish. We learn at this junction that the sail onthe raft we saw in the opening shot of the film is in fact Hava’s chador, whichsubsequently changes our reading of this image.
The first shot nowseems to reflect the new challenge before Hava; perceiving the world through aveil which will from now on filter her landscape. This image acts as a metaphorfor how she, as a woman, will experience life as she grows older. To a Westernaudience forcing this on a nine year old girl seems extreme – she’s still achild who just wants to play, but now her freedom of choice is gone and herfuture is decided for her. This segment is the first instance that implies afeminist reading.
The future of girls in Iran differs, for the worse, fromthose of boys in Iran. Hava is keenly aware that “her newstatus is a lesser one” (Reza Sadr, 2006). She understands that when shereturns home, she will no longer be able to play, especially with her friendHassan.
When he is stuck in the house, Hava buys a lollipop which they sharethrough his window. Dempsey (2012) points out that the candy sharing withHassan represents one of the last moments where Hava can exercise autonomy overher body. Hava is presented as being aware that she cannot change her future,and although she accepts her circumstances, she is determined to enjoy her lastmoments before she becomes a ‘woman’.
The film could be quite dark because ofthe themes, but is presented in a light and comical manner, because althoughthere is room to interpret it as critical of the repression of women, it ismore ambiguous like a fable or parable. Thefilm presents the process of socialisation as a shutting of doors, rather thanas an easy experience, and the two tales that we see after Hava’s sectionfeature women later in the process, but still facing problems of embracingtheir lives as women. Becoming a woman in Iran means accepting a cultural,social role that is placed on you. The three characters we are introduced toare all resisting this in a subtle way. Hava is more explicit with her initialrejection of the scarf, and refusal to stay home when she wants to be playing.In the second tale, Ahoo, a married woman, is taking part in a bicycle raceagainst her husband’s wishes – this rebellion causes her to be divorced andeventually forced off her bike as well as being verbally abused for theduration of the race for hurting her male family member’s honour. For women inIran to partake in physical activity does not fit with general ideas ofmodesty, so even this is rebellious in the first place and is symbolic of hertrying to move away from her traditional role. Houra, the old woman at the endof the film, is a rebellious woman because she has her own money.
She has cometo the island of Kish to buy all the things she has always wanted and is actingas an autonomous individual in an environment where this is unusual for awoman. Their rebellion is one of the reasons this may be considered animportant feminist film. Space is used interestingly throughoutthe film. Despite Iran’s status as a developed country with cities and infrastructure,it is presented to us here as very flat and very empty. In Iranian cinema, thelandscape is very important.
The Day IBecame A Woman is shot entirely on an island named Kish, where richIranians come to shop duty free. The choice to ignore the bustling parts of theisland and present it as a vast rocky desert by the sea makes the charactersvery prominent. It almost becomes a graphic representation of a space ratherthan a real one. The houses we see in the film are closed spaces – Hava, theyoung girl we are introduced to in the first tale, lives in a house with anopen courtyard, but her mother and grandmother will no longer let her malefriend Hassan into the complex as it is her ninth birthday and she is now awoman and as such, must be segregated from males as is customary in Islamicsociety. When Hava goes to collect Hassan to play, he cannot leave the house heis in and they must talk only through bars. We never see them in the same shot,only the jumping from one to the other. Another space present in the film is theairport – a transitional space – a space where nobody stays, only passesthrough.
An airport is an example of what Marc Auge (1995) calls a non-place.At once the space is open and empty, but simultaneously bordered and closed.For Western audiences, the Male Gaze(Mulvey, 1975) is a feature of cinema that cannot be escaped. Women areobjectified and shot in ways that are solely for the male viewer. There is anemphasis on bodies and sexualisation. For an Iranian film, where the makers andviewers will more than likely hold strict Muslim values this is not the case.
The Gaze that is present in The Day IBecame A Woman is not that of a Western production. There are almost no menpresent in the film, so we do not see the traditional shot-reverse-shot motionof the camera as a man looks at a woman. All the female and male characters aresegregated, they are never seen in the same shot. Nowhere in the film is therea two-shot featuring a man and woman, which is ever-present in Hollywood filmsas a symbol of a romantic or close-relationship by members of the opposite sex.Even when we see the men in the secondtale – the bike race featuring Ahoo symbolically riding away from her malefamily members – the men and Ahoo are not in the same shot, it jumps betweenthem. The way the men are presented in this scene is a stark contrast to thewomen.
The women are cycling, their bodies shrouded by traditional Islamicdress, where the men are all shirtless and very obviously so. The contrast isreally visible, but the critique this may be offering the audience about theinequality is subtle. The film is successful in not being explicitly criticalwhile still earning a reaction. When the brothers catch Ahoo and dismount herfrom her bike, the camera does show them both in the same frame, but the cameracontinues to move as if the race is still moving and thus we do not see themost violent moment of the film in any detail. As Michelle Langford points out,”The breathtaking mobility of the camera is paradigmatic of the tale about tounfold: the tale of a woman’s desire for social mobility… the camera isconstantly mobile throughout this part of the film, like the protagonist,almost never pausing to rest” (pg 2) and goes on to explain that this “virtual mobility may not reflect the actual mobility available to women inIranian society” (pg 2). The fact we do not see the violence is another exampleof the convention of modesty present throughout the film that is present inmany pictures produced in post-revolutionary Iran. AnnaDempsey describes the men chasing Ahoo in the second segment as representing”codes which silence the public female voice and hide the female body beneaththe cloak of modesty” (2012). This segment featuring Ahoo may be the mostsymbolically critical of women’s lives in Iran, as Ahoo seems to be thecharacter presented to us that is least happy with her way of life, accepting adivorce in exchange for some freedom to ride her bike.
Inconclusion, the main reasons The Day IBecame A Woman is such an importantpiece of feminist cinema comes from the representation that arises of a societythat Western audiences do not understand, where the life of a woman is decidedfor them. Even in Western societies women have not gained equality, despitehuge progress, but to see an explicit representation of the repression sufferedin Islamic countries is fairly shocking. Despite this, “a majority of Iranianwomen support the Islamic system and many actively participate to promote theofficial regulations and rules regarding women” (Ferdows, 1995 pg 327) andwhile this may be hard for Western audiences to understand it is important tosee a representation that shows this is the case, but also showing the doubtsthey have. As Dabashi says, “The fact that emerges from The Day I Became A Woman is the systematic, unjust, and endemicrepression of women written and carved into the fabric of a culture” (Dabashi,2007). This statement summarises the message of the film, and summarises why itmay be so important as a feminist piece, despite its simple aesthetics. Despitethe rebellion of the characters, the Islamic culture is such a strong, welldefined society, it would be impossible for a woman to be truly independent inher choices, and this is evidenced within the film.