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. Themain character of the film, Fereshteh Samimi gives her husband her journal toread, revealing her hidden past. The journal reveals that when she was 18,Fereshteh joined a revolutionary communist group which leads to a love affairwith an older man. Fereshteh’s husband is a judge and is currently interviewinga woman who has been sentenced to death and is looking for repeal. Fereshtehgives the journal to her husband in the hope that he will be more opened mindedwhen interviewing this woman. This film addresses taboo themes such as limitedexpression in Iran, women’s roles in the revolution, marriage and the right toromance.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 1 Maghazei, Malihe .The Role of IranianFemale filmmakers in The Concious raising Process”, Visiting Fellow, Middle East Centre, London School of Economicsand Political Science, London, 20152 Chan B-Phil, Amanda . CULTURALFRONTIERS: WOMEN DIRECTORS IN POST-REVOLUTIONARY NEW WAVE IRANIAN CINEMA. Internationaland Area Studies, University of Pittsburgh, USA. 2016, web.3 Philips.Richard.
Iranian Director Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The InternationalCommittee of the Fourth International (ICFI). wsws.org. Web.
4 Grunes,Dennis. Two Women (Tamineh Milani, 1999). Grunes.wordpress.com. March 12. 2007.
The Allegory of Emotional Abuse in Tamineh Milani’s Two Women.Vaguevisages.com. March 29. 2016.
Web.6 Grunes,Dennis. Two Women (Tamineh Milani, 1999). Grunes.wordpress.
com. March 12. 2007.Web.7 Oller.Jacob. The Allegory of Emotional Abuse in Tamineh Milani’s Two Women.Vaguevisages.
com. March 29. 2016. Web.8 Philips.
Richard. Iranian Director Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The InternationalCommittee of the Fourth International (ICFI). wsws.org.
Web.9 Philips. Richard. Iranian DirectorTamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The International Committee of the FourthInternational (ICFI).
wsws.org. Web. 10 T.Ramavarman. Tamineh Milani Declines to Give up Hope. The Times of India.
TheEconomic Times. timesofindia.indiatimes.com. November 26. 2011.