TWO WOMEN (2000) (***1/2)

14 06 2008

Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani opened eyes around the world with her frank look at the role of women in Iran in this gripping production. Her following film, THE HIDDEN HALF, landed her in prison for two weeks. Her most recent film CEASE FIRE has become the best selling movie in Iranian cinema history. For TWO WOMEN, on a low budget, she crafts a moving melodrama about two promising female architecture students whose lives eventual go in very different directions.

Roya (Marila Zare’i, THE FIFTH REACTION) works at an architecture firm with her supportive husband when she gets a phone call that her good friend from college Fereshteh (Niki Karimi, THE HIDDEN HALF) is at the hospital with her dying husband. Roya hasn’t heard from Fereshteh for years, because her prideful father (Reza Khandan) kept them apart. They original met when Roya asked Fereshteh, an exceptional student, for help with her Math class. They soon became inseparable friends. However, Fereshteh gains a stalker named Hassan (Mohammad Reza Forutan) who threatens violence on her unless she marries him. Later tragedy will lead to Fereshteh agreeing to a marriage with the older Ahmad (Atila Pesiani), whose paranoia leads to mental abuse.

Driven by Karimi’s passionate performance, this melodrama has lots of dramatic events, underlined by not so subtle music, but its frankness about the second-class status of women in Iran is brought forward honestly. While Hassan is a one-dimensional stalker, Ahmad is a far subtler abuser. In this detail specifically, Milani makes a much more nuanced call for freedom. It’s easy to say that women should be protected from men that throw acid, but in a more traditional society where women can’t get a divorce from an oppressive husband as long as his abuse is not physical, the film takes on an increased importance. All the more heartbreaking is that Fereshteh begins with freedom, independence and a promising future and has it striped from her.

Along with Jafar Panahi’s THE CIRCLE and Marzieh Makhmalbaf’s THE DAY I BECAME A WOMEN, TWO WOMEN was part of an explosion of Iranian artists at the dawn of the 21st century that called out to the world for change in their patriarchal society. It was the time when reformists where gaining power. While TWO WOMEN doesn’t overtly criticize the government, the passion and hope that the film portrays is a statement for change across all segments of Iranian society. Later in the decade the clerics stamped down on reforms and then came “the Axis of Evil,” and a country ran to conservative ideologues because they talked tough about the enemies while they took liberties away from their citizens. TWO WOMEN allows us to look into the heart of a country that is supposed to be our enemy and see from its people the common human desires and experiences that we all share.

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