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DAY I BECAME A WOMAN, THE (ROOZI KHE ZAN SHODAM) (director/writer: Marzieh Meshkini; screenwriter: Mohsen Makhmalbaf; cinematographers: Ebrahim Ghafoori/Mohammad Ahmadi; editors: Shahrzad Poya/Maysam Makhmalbaf; cast: Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar (Girl, Hava), Hassan Nabehan (Boy, Hassan), Shahrbanou Sisizadeh (Mother), Ameneh Pasand (Grandmother), Shabnam Toloui (Woman, Ahoo), Cyrus Kahouri Nejad (Husband), Mahram Zeinal Zadeh (Osman), Nourieh Mahiguirian (Rival Cyclist), Azizeh Seddighi (Old Woman, Houra), Badr Irouni Nejad (Young Boy); Runtime: 78; Shooting Gallery; 2000)
“The three stories reflect how women suffer from repression because of the strict observance of Muslim law.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marzieh Meshkini’s beautiful Iranian film, “The Day I Became a Woman,” is set on Kish Island, in southern Iran. There are three interlinking stories (allegories) about the three different stages of a woman’s life (childhood, young womanhood, an old age). In the first story entitled Hava (Akhtar-Hava is Persian for Eve), a girl of nine reluctantly becomes a woman and must from now on wear a chador (shawl) in public and can’t play alone with boys anymore. The first part of the film is grounded in reality, telling about the child’s hardship of so suddenly losing her innocence. In the second story entitled Ahoo (Toloui-Ahoo is Persian for deer), a wife in her twenties would rather be divorced than stay married to her domineering husband. This story is very colorfully photographed and has very little dialogue. The final story is surreal and is very comical. It is entitled Houra (Seddighi-Houra is Persian for nymph), and she’s a widow, probably, in her eighties, who has just inherited a lot of money and can buy whatever she wants for the first time in her life. The beach and the seaside is an integral setting for each of the stories. It should also be noted that all the heroines are determined to get what they want but the first two are not in a position to win their fight; but, it is only Ahoo who is forced physically to accept her fate by men.

Marzieh Meshkini is the wife of noted Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. He served as the film’s screenwriter. The three stories reflect how women suffer from repression because of the strict observance of Muslim law. In the third story when a woman finally has gained her freedom, she doesn’t know what to intelligently do with her newly found freedom as she becomes overwhelmed with consumerism. Her freedom comes too late for her. Even though they are different women depicted, it might as well be the same woman because the film is a metaphor for all Iranian women.

The first episode opens with the cute little girl Hava wanting to go outside and play with her friend Hassan (Nabehan). Her mother (Sisizadeh) and granny (Pasand) decide that since she was born at noon and it is now 11 a.m., she could play for one more hour before putting on her chador. To know the exact time they give the girl a stick and tell her to put it in the sand, and when she can’t see the stick’s shadow it is time to come home. Just before her time is up, she shares a lollipop with Hassan. Strangely enough, the Iranian censors wanted the director to cut this part because they found it too erotic. They had no other objections to the film.

In the second episode Ahoo, with a number of other women, is in a bike race on a bicycle path (the only one in Iran where women are allowed to ride) — with the Persian Gulf to their side; all the women are wearing their black chadors and full black dresses. Her frantic husband comes by on a horse and insists she quit the race. He says if she doesn’t, he will divorce her. When she continues racing the mullah who married her, he rides by her side on his horse to urge her to obey her husband. He tells her she is riding on “the devil’s mount.” When this also fails to stop her from pedaling furiously on, members of her tribe on horseback yell out to tell her how she has disgraced their family. She is finally stopped by her two brothers, who are also on horseback. They take her bike; we do not know if she takes another rider’s bike and continues on, or if she was forced to stop. We know exactly how she feels and how determined she is not to be bullied by them, as we clearly see her animated facial expressions. In any case, it is evident from this episode that a divorce can be attained quite easily by a man.

In the last episode the elderly widow Houra gets off the airplane and is placed in a wheelchair, where a young black boy wheels her to the bazaar. On her fingers she has tied on different colored strings so she can remember all the items she wants. She goes on a shopping spree and purchases everything she always wanted to have in her house: a modern stove, a refrigerator, a kitchen table, a sofa, a new bed, and so. Her main problem is that she has forgotten what the red string is for, and hesitates to leave without trying to figure out what she has forgotten to purchase. A group of boys wheel the stuff to the beach in a parade from the bazaar and deposit it on the beach. When she returns to the store to return a tea kettle, the boys fool around with her goods. On her return from the bazaar she has the boys load it onto rafts to take it to a boat out at sea, where she will return home to feed her rooster (that was her other main concern). Because of her age she doesn’t have to wear the chador anymore. But this freedom has come too late, she has lost her beauty and offers no more temptations to the men. Hava can be seen in the last shot of the film wearing her chador, as she has returned to the beach to watch the old lady departing Kish. Perhaps there can be detected a knowing look in her eyes of what the future holds for her.

This is an irresistible film. I ate it up as quickly as I used to lick an ice cream cone when I was a kid. You can learn more about Iran from watching a movie like this one than you can by following the news stories reported by the major media networks.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”