The New Yorker:
Marzieh Meshkini’s three-part film, “The Day I Became a Woman,” from 2000, is a masterwork of symbolic cinema; it depicts, with vast imagination, the ordeals faced by women in modern Iranian society. Meshkini reportedly made it as three separate short films, in order to elude the system of official censorship that governed features but not shorts. The result is a trio of tightly composed and lyrically filmed episodes, titled by the name of their protagonists, that offer images of enormous psychological power—images that ought to haunt both the memory and the subconscious of anyone who sees them. Not enough people see them, but they are both screening tonight at Anthology Film Archives and readily available to stream anywhere.
The film set on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf, and all three episodes take place largely by the sea, making use of both its photogenic and its metaphorical aspects. The first story, “Hava,” features a girl on the day of her ninth birthday—the day, according to her grandmother, that she becomes a woman, and, as a result, the day that she must cover her hair with a head scarf, and that she can no longer play with her best friend, a boy named Hassan. After Hassan is sadly turned away and Hava, bewildered, protests, Hava’s mother finds a rather ingenious loophole, allowing her one last brief outing with her friend—but, by the time Hava arrives at Hassan’s home, he’s virtually imprisoned there, forced to do homework for fear that his teacher will hit him. Instead, the two forlorn friends share a snack, through the jail-like bars of his window, that evokes both the submission to religious law and the power of yet another law—the one of unintended consequences—that gives rise to surprising behavior and knowledge and reverberates with scriptural overtones regarding forbidden fruit and the power of temptation. (It also delivers, in a subplot involving Hava’s head scarf, a notable metaphorical suggestion of whom society’s rules empower and whom they restrict.)
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