This chapter focuses on the director Tamhineh Milani becauseshe played a prominent role in bringing international attention to Iraniancinema during the 1990s as well as pushing the boundaries of the censorshiplaws in Iran.
Her films daringly spearhead the issues of stalking, domestic andemotional abuse, harassment, patriarchy, divorce, and motherhood. Many of thesesubjects were seen as taboo in Iranian cinema. This chapter discusses two ofher films that are relevant to female filmmaker’s success in Iranian cinema.The first film is Two Women, whichcame out in 1999, followed by her 2001 film TheHidden Half.Tahmineh Milani was born in Iran in 1960 and is considered tobe from the second generation of female filmmakers in Iran.
1This means that she would have been only a teenager during the Iranian Revolution.There are many women filmmakers that contributed to the Iranian film industrybut I chose to write about Milani because of the skilful way she gets her filmspast the censorship boards. When she is applying for film permits sheemphasizes more accepted themes such as motherhood rather than draw attentionto more controversial themes that may challenge the Islamic ideologies. Thisway she can still achieve what she wants in her films. The way she uses herscripts to get around the censorship board and portray what she wants is an artform in itself.
Milani identifies herself as a feminist. She believes that the identity crisis, the double lives ofIranian people at the present social situation and discrimination against womenare the most pressing problems in Iranian society2.The central themes of her movies are mostly focused on gender legaldiscrimination and unequal gender structure and relations. In a recentinterview she said “For me the best way to change things is by challengingthings and provoking discussion. If this happens then it will bring changes. Therefore,when I make a movie my aim is to challenge society.
Some people don’t like thisand disagree but the most important thing is to talk and be able to publiclydebate these issues. This will help people to think more deeply about issuesthat they face.”3Milani originally studied architecture but when the universities of Iran closeddown during the 1979 Revolution, she started a career in film.
This hasinfluenced many of her films, which are often set in the same time period andinfluence her story telling. Tamineh Milani’s1999 film, Two Women is set aroundthe beginning of the 1979 Revolution. The film begins with one of the maincharacters, Roya receiving a phone call from an old friend. Her friend,Fereshteh, is calling Roya to ask for help as her husband has been brought intothe hospital with life threatening injuries. The film then moves on to tell thestory of how Roya and Fereshteh became friends through a series of flashbacks. Bothwomen are at university together. Fereshteh is a hardworking and strong willedperson from a poor family.
She is extremely clever and pays for her tuition bytutoring other students. Roya is from a rich family who is having troublekeeping up in her classes and asks Fereshteh to help her with her studies. Fromhere, they create a strong friendship. Fereshteh has no interest in marryingdespite appearing to have many suitors. She later attracts a stalker who stopsat nothing to gain her attention. Her stalker quickly turns violent and thefilm turns very sinister from this point. Though Fereshteh is a victim, herfather blames her for having unwanted attention and forces her to leave universityand return to her hometown. Soon after, all the universities in Iran closedown.
Fereshteh is horrified to find out that her stalker has followed herhome. This concludes in a car chase where Fereshteh is fleeing from Hassan andends in disaster. While Fereshteh only injures a child, Hassan kills one of theothers.
Fig.6Still from Two Women. Both main characters watch in horror as a raidbreaks out in their college. 1999.
This is only thebeginning of Fereshteh’s problems. Fereshtehagrees to marry one of her suitors on the condition that she will be allowed tofinish her degree when the universities reopen. Her new husband, Ahmad, doesn’tstay true to his word however. It is revealed that Ahmad is a jealous andcontrolling husband who traps Fereshteh in her own home, separating her fromthe outside world. We learn of how her mental state begins to weaken throughFereshteh’s own narration. 13 years pass and Fereshteh has two children. Fereshtehis confronted with more horror when she realises her stalker has been releasedfrom prison and has been waiting outside her house. A chase begins and thestalker corners Fereshteh down an alleyway.
Ahmad attacks Hassan, killing himbut not before getting fatally injured. This scene reveals how Fereshteh’shusband ended up in hospital, bringing us back to the present day with herfriend Roya. Ahmad dies soon after and Fereshteh is free to live her life forthe first time in 13 years. The film ends with Fereshteh voicing her worries toRoya that she has forgotten how to live. Like many Iranian filmmakers, Milani uses anaturalistic style and epic narrative script for Two Women. Throughout the film, Fereshteh voices her fate andcomplaints through narration. However, the film changes into something a lotbleaker, turning into a type of horror film as Fereshteh’s life turns bad.
Thisis due to the harrowing content within the story. Fig. 7, Screenshottaken from Two Women. Fereshtehreturns home to see her children .
1999.In figure 7, we see Fereshteh return home during a storm totry take her children away from her husband. The use of lightning against theshadows thrown by Fereshteh’s hijab adds a very eerie feel to the scene. Thiscoupled with scenes of Fereshteh running through the wind with her hijabflowing out around her ads for a similar effect. Milani uses hand held tension, windingstaircases and uses the altitude from this to create a bleak feeling in thefilm.4Though the film is called Two Women, itis really only about one.
Roya’s character only acts to be compared toFereshteh and to highlight the misfortunes that are conflicted on Iranian womenby the Islamic government. Roya and Fereshteh are two different sides of thesame character. Both reflect the opposite futures that are possible for Iranianwomen. Although the filmis not about the Iranian Revolution, it is a constant presence in the film,constantly on the outskirts of the story. This is reflected in public scenessuch as bathrooms, bus stops and classrooms. These places are temporary and donot belong to any particular character within the film.
Fig. 8, Screenshot taken from Two Women . The two main characters conversewhile walking by a protest outside the college. 1999.
This is evident in figure 8 when we see Roya and Fereshtehconverse while walking by a protest outside the college. The increase in thepopularity of the misogynistic Islamic Republic reflects Fereshteh’s owntrauma.5All of her trauma stems from the three prominent male figures in her life, herfather, her husband and a stalker. The present spectre of sexual violence fromher stalker and husband echoes the march of radical Islamic rule In Iran. 6 As none of the characters in the film are directlylinked to the Islamic Revolution, the film was eventually approved by thecensorship board. When Fereshtehcreates a self-defence group called the Apaches and later is broken down by hermarriage, it reflects the freedom she once had that was stolen from her.
Fereshteh prematurely ages and tension risestowards the time when she gives birth to her two children. This mountingtension is similar to a slasher film by using the most obvious sign ofwomanhood as a symbol of horror. All of Fereshteh’s strength and aspirationhave been murdered with the mark of childbirth7.When Fereshteh finally meets her old friend Roya, she looks warn down and iswearing the traditional full-length black hijab. The way Fereshteh dressesthroughout the film is symbolic to how she changes. This can be seen in figures6,8 and 9.
At the beginning of the film, Fereshteh is seen wearing colourfuland more modern clothes but as her circumstances gradually change, so do herclothes. Her dress sense becomes darker as she feels less and less in controlof her life. This concludes with the full-length black hijab when finally shereunites with Roya. This scene adds more to the idea that the film ends as ahorror. Milani purposefully tries to dramatize the harrowing content of thestory to create a lasting impact for the viewer. Fig. 9, Screenshot taken from Two Women. Fereshteh is finally reunitedwith her friend, Roya.
1999. The difference in how Roya and Fereshteh are dressed is alsovery symbolic. As shown in figure 10, the viewer sees Roya at her work placeobviously showing her sense of authority. This is shown through her confidentdemeanour and how she is dressed. In figure 10, she wears a headscarf and dressthat is traditionally associated with femininity.
However, there are alsocontrasting elements to her costume such as a hard hat that is often associatedwith masculinity. This coupled with her sunglasses, business phone and her bodylanguage makes Roya’s character radiate authority. Roya reflects everythingthat Fereshteh could not have. Roya returned to university when they reopenedand finished her degree. She is dressed as a more modern woman and owns a car.
UnlikeFereshteh, she has a thriving career. She married one of her work colleague andhas a healthy relationship with him. This scene is important as it explains themeaning of the title. Fig.
10, Screenshot taken from Two Women. Roya at her workplace. 1999. Though the film isnot about Roya, her life reflects the life Fereshteh could have had.
The filmshows how two women with the same aspirations can have two very different livesas a result of the Islamic rule in Iran. TwoWomen is a perfect example of how Tamineh Milani skilfully gets her scriptsby the censorship board in Iran and manages to deal with taboo themes at thesame time. The censorship board could have chosen not to release this film onthe grounds that it showed violence, abuse and scenes from the Islamicrevolution. At first glance this film is about stalking and domestic andemotional abuse. However Milani questions much deeper themes about Iranianculture such as womanhood and patriarchy. She also touches upon the riskysubject of the Iranian Revolution. When TwoWomen was released in Iran it was banned for several months by thecensorship board but due to its popularity was later released.
8The film later won the award for best screenplay at the Fajr Film Festival 1999and Best Actress for Niki Karimi at the Taormina Film Festival who played therole of Fereshteh. Another one ofMilani’s films that I am particularly interested in is her 2001 film, The Hidden Half which she won BestArtist Contribution at the 25th Cairo International Film Festival for. She also made international headlines in 2001because of this film when the Islamic Republic arrested her. Her charges wereusing art to promote anti-Islamic values. The film contained scenes about anti-revolutionary groups.9 Milani was the first filmmaker in her countrythat was arrested for these charges.
The main characterof the film, Fereshteh Samimi gives her husband her journal to read, revealingher hidden past. The journal reveals that when she was 18, Fereshteh joined arevolutionary communist group which leads to a love affair with an older man.Fereshteh’s husband is a judge and is currently interviewing a woman who hasbeen sentenced to death and is looking for repeal. Fereshteh gives the journalto her husband in the hope that he will be more opened minded when interviewingthis woman. This film addresses taboo themes such as limited expression inIran, women’s roles in the revolution, marriage and the right to romance.10 There are two meanings behind the title ofthis film.
The first meaning refers to the repression of Iranian women. Thesecond meaning refers to the need to hear both sides of a story. During theflashbacks Fereshteh is perceived to be a young, naive idealist who wishes tounderstand the changes in Iranian society at this time.11However, as time moves on, she quickly realises that these changes prove to berepressive rather than liberating for Iranian women. While Two Women only hinted at the topic ofthe Iranian revolution, The Hidden Half ismore direct in addressing it. However, the film is still not as direct as youwould think.
The film is full of symbolism. The main example of this is throughuse of Fereshteh’s diary.Fig.
11 Still from The Hidden Half. Fereshteh writing the diary that she will give to herhusband. 2001.Milani is careful not to pass a direct judgement in the film.The film is a story about a story and the diary acts as a tool to dramatize therepression of the Iranian people.12The diary only reflects the thoughts of a character within the story and notthe director.
In figure 11, we see Fereshteh in a traditional black hijab writingin the diary she later gives to her husband. The hijab is often seen as asymbol of silence and in this case, it is used to add to the symbolism of thediary. The use of Fereshteh’s diary symbolises the lack of voice Iranian womenhave in their society. Fereshteh feels it is necessary to write down her hiddenpast and hide it in her husband’s suitcase rather than voice it aloud. Theunnamed women who her husband is going to visit whose life is threatenedbecause of a similar past proves this. TaminehMilani’s own prosecution for making this film aids in solidifying her views ofthe treatment of Iranian women. By making a filmthat confronts the Iranian government with its problems, Milani even faced thedeath penalty for a short period before being released due to worldwideprotests.
She says “It was the first time an Iranian director had been jailedin my country but I don’t think I was arrested because the movie was socritical of the government. They were afraid that my film would encourage otherdirectors and that there would be more movies—better and even deeper thanmine—about this period. So the government arrested me to send a message toothers—don’t make these sorts of films. Since then nobody has made a film aboutthis subject.”13Fig.
12Still from The Hidden Half. Fereshehreunites with her old love interest and realised she was guilty of not hearingboth sides of the story. 2001.
The second meaningwithin The Hidden Half, the need tohear both sides of a story shows through the relationship Fereshteh has withthe love interest from her hidden past. Fereshteh takes the word of a strangerrather than confronting the person she knows. In figure 12 we see her reunitewith her old love interest, Roozebeh. ThoughFereshteh realises she may have been wrong to shut him out, she still is notwilling to hear his side of the story. This is seen in her body language withher back to Roozebeh. Tamineh Milani usesher film making as a tool to inform her viewers of the changes that need to be madein her culture. Her films are not just a form of entertainment. She continuesto try to make films about the difficult problems in Iran.
She is currentlytrying to make a film about Iranian women who kill their husbands but has beenmet with a lot of resistance in Iran14.Her films follow similar themes found in New Wave Iranian Cinema such as familylife and war. They take on the signature naturalistic style found in IranianCinema but also stand on their own. It is important to note that the same actorwith the same name, Feresheh, plays many of Milani’s main characters. Thiscould perhaps be a reference to all Iranian women. Milani is not telling thestory of one unfortunate incidence of one woman. She is telling the story ofall Iranian women that do not have voices. While watching all of Milani’sfilms, the viewer is constantly aware that Milani is trying to send a verycritical message about her society.
This has led to mixed reviews about herfilms but none the less makes them stand out. Tamineh Milani’s works helpedcreate a platform for other female filmmakers where they can question socialand political problems in Iran. An example is Samira Makhmalbaf who uses filmas a means to shed light on the untold stories in Iranian culture. She is thetopic of the third and final chapter. 1 Maghazei, Malihe .
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