(director/writer: Tahmineh Milani; cinematographer: Hossein Djafarian; editor: Mustafa Kherqepush; music: Babak Bayat; cast: Mohammad Reza Forutan (Hassan, “Maniac”), Niki Karimi (Fereshteh), Reza Khandan (Fereshteh’s father), Atila Pesiani (Ahmad), Marila Zare’i (Roya); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; Facets Video; 1999-Iran-in Farsi, with English subtitles)

“It’s an incredible story about the unimaginable suffering of one woman…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

Though Tahmineh Milani’s troublesome feminist film lacks certain cinematic skills and is emotionally overwrought, it still has a gripping power that takes one into modern Iran and harshly examines its repressive attitude toward women as few other Iranian films dared. It’s based on a true story. Milani waited seven years for government censors to approve her script, which proves to be a strong accusation of Iran’s traditional attitudes toward women.

It’s an incredible story about the unimaginable suffering of one woman, who might as well speak for all of the women in Iran, who at one despairing moment cries out “I am a human being!” Her cries are only met with indifference. The story is told from a flashback, where one of the woman is calling her architect friend to say she needs her support because her husband is dying in the hospital. The flashback picks up from the time the two friends met at the university, and how one prospered in the new freedom of Tehran and the other was made miserable by getting stuck with a traditionalist husband in a stifling small town with no way out. The film details her unbearable life.

Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) comes from the provincial town of Estafan to study during the 1980s at Tehran University, where she proves to be a confident and brilliant student. When she solves a difficult mathematical problem no one else in her class can, an ambitious classmate named Roya (Marila Zare’i) pays for her services as a tutor and as a result they become tight friends. The future looks bright for the optimistic Fereshteh as she shuns being fixed up with eligible men and even turns down a wealthy prospect who seeks her out through an intermediary, as her reason for remaining unattached is because she prefers to pursue her career. What’s unsettling is the strife on the campus, as the schools are in turmoil and are being threatened with the possibility of closure. She worries that without a chance to get an education, all her plans will go down the drain. But her biggest problem turns out to be a switchblade carrying psycho stalker on a motorbike (Mohammad Reza Forutan), who warns her that she better marry him and see no one else because he loves her. She doesn’t go to the police because she fears her narrow-minded traditional father (Khandan) will feel shamed.

The incident that drastically changes her life is when the jealous stalker spots her with her cousin Amir and assumes that’s her boyfriend, and thereby throws acid in his face causing him to be hospitalized. Her father blames her for the incident, and forces her to quit the college and return home and have no more contact with her Tehran friends. The stalker follows and when she tries to escape by car, she accidentally runs over a boy playing in the street breaking his legs while the psycho on his motorbike kills one of the other children playing. Her father offers her little support, as he feels this is a black mark on the family name. The psycho is sent away for 13 years, but as he leaves the court he threatens to come back and kill her. In her trial, she is released after a man who loves her and wants to marry her, Ahmed (Atila Pesiani), pays the damages to the injured child’s family. Her father forces her to marry Ahmed to save his family’s honor, even though she doesn’t want to marry him. But Ahmed shrewdly tells her he will allow her to return to school and appears to be a mild-mannered man. When she marries him things change, as he turns out to be an insanely jealous man who locks her in the house, prevents her from reading books, hides the phone, doesn’t allow her to make contact with others, and reneges on his promise to send her to school. Their love is compared to a jailer and his prisoner, as she’s dependent on him for existence. When she tries to get a divorce, the authorities don’t recognize her verbal abuse as being a cause for a divorce and refuse to act on her request. Reconciled to this bad marriage and thwarted in whatever she tries to do, she tries to make the best of it and raise her two boys.

13 years have gone by and she is completely broken down as a human being, and when she absolutely can’t stand living another moment with her intolerant boorish husband, she runs away after an argument but is followed by the released psycho. When he corners her down a blind alley and she sees no escape and feels she can’t take any more of her cruel fate, she welcomes him to stab her to death. But her husband comes to the rescue and is critically stabbed. The film then returns to the present in the hospital and the two women who have not seen each other since Fereshteh’s departure from Tehran, are seen in contrast from when they first met. Roya married the wealthy modern boss of the construction firm and acts as his partner living a sensible and happy life, while Fereshteh’s spirit is crushed and her confidence is gone as she is a shell of herself. The psycho, her father, and her husband all proved to be insensitive monsters and all resemble each other. The government also proves to be insensitive to women’s rights.

Milani’s feminist and humanistic statements about Iran’s patriarchal society results in a heartbreaking film that is very moving and earnest. There must be hope for the women of Iran if there’s someone like Milani around to tell their story. The film does not overtly criticize the Irananian regime, it instead focuses on the perils of Fereshteh’s predicament. That is probably the reason it eventually got by the censors.

Two Women (1999) Poster