I chanced upon watching “Roozi ke zan shodam” (The Day I Became a Woman) after seeing it in the “Must See Iranian Films” list. Unfortunately, I have never seen it being advertised as one of the must-see feminist films. I personally feel this sweet, simple film powerful, where females are being brought to the limelight. Marzieh Meshkini dissected women’s lives from the three important phases of our lives; as a girl, as a woman, and as a wise woman who’s undergone the entire phase of being a woman, under the broad daylight. Not only that, Meshkini also put the stories into context: a rich and complex life of contemporary Iran. Sadly, this meticulous effort suffered from being underrated, like many other female-directed films about females. Hence, I felt the moral imperative to write a review on this film.
This Iranian triptych starts its journey with a story about a little girl. That day is like every other day, except that Hava (Fatemeh Cherag Akhar) turns nine, and according to Iranian culture, she should be bestowed the lofty title: a woman. The little girl does not yet understand what the word “woman” means, the only thing she wants is go playing with her boy friend. Her mother and her grandmother resists, until she convinces them that she hasn’t turned nine before 12 p.m. yet. She then is granted the right to go play with her boy friend until 12 p.m., as long as she wears the hijab that her mother has sewn. The rest of the first story revolves around her maneuvering her designated role as a woman so she can enjoy her last seconds of being a little girl.
The second story is particularly unique since it conveys such a strong message from a simple scene: Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui) riding her bicycle. No, it’s more than that: Ahoo rides her bicycle despite her husband telling her not to. She used to ride her bicycle until her husband forbade her from doing so. Her husband then follows her on a horse, threatens to divorce her if she does not obey him. But Ahoo does not budge. She clearly feels exhausted from riding her bicycle, sometimes she looks back, like perhaps recalculating her decision. In the end, her entire male family members follow her and force her to get down from her bicycle. Ahoo is still determined to ride her bicycle as she wishes to ride on her own independence.
Meshkini spared the last story to be the humorous one. We here watch the overly-dramatic journey of Hoora (Azizeh Sedighi) who just mysteriously gets an inheritance. She declares that finally she can buy whatever she wants after spending her entire life being unable to do so. She decides to buy a bunch of kitchen appliances, utensils, and basically domestic-related furnitures, as she tells her story to the little boys she hires to help lift all the purchase. Having no settlement to put all the furnitures in, Hoora sets all of her purchase on the beach. The last scene of her and her newly-bought furnitures floating away on some fragile wooden kayaks and are carried by the sea waves is bizzare, legendary, and nearly comical.
The three women are linked by the sea; where Hava must step on some kayak and embrace the sea like her family, and where Hoora meets two of Ahoo’s competitors in the bicycle race and then invites them for some tea. Although this is a pretty common approach to wrap up the stories altogether, Meshkini surely does not give everything away. In the end, nearly everything remains a mystery. Where are Hava and her family going? Why do they need to go at the first place? Why does Ahoo indomitably resist her culture’s patriarchs? What is the last thing that Hoora wants to buy, yet she’s forgotten? All the mysteries end on the sea, along with Hoora and her furnitures whom the waves wash away.
Why, despite the opportunity, doesn’t Meshkini resolve and answer everything? I am led to believe that because it is not the intention of this movie. The movie envisioned to put its audience behind females’ spectacles; to familiarise us with the female gaze. In the first story, the shortened shadow of a stick that acts as a sundial never makes us root for a girl before. For females, time is always clocking, and a nine-years old who is still full with naivete is forced to face her fate for being a nine-years old ready to submit herself to womanhood in her cultural terms. In Ahoo’s story, the arrid and barren mise en scène is also the world from Ahoo’s point of view. She has been embittered by the rules, and riding a bicycle has never been a political statement like this before. She refuses to even talk to the patriarchs and is only focused to finish her race. Hoora’s segment may look comical, but why does she buy domestic furnitures and utensils? Yes, she has been inherited a lot of money, mysteriously, and claims that she is freed by the money. But is she? Being confined to her own definition of kitchen appliances as freedom, she bears a huge question mark of what we think freedom for women is.
Marzieh Meshkini is a great director, “Roozi ke zan shodam” is a great movie offering critical point of view towards Eastern patriarchal culture, and both of them deserve more appreciation. This is the kind of film that I would show to all important females in my life. It narrates about us, about our shared, unique experience, and why we ought not be ashamed to talk about it.