The Day I Became a Woman (2000)

Perhaps it’s just my own ignorance, but I was surprised to find that there are some Iranian films directed by women. Living in a nation that’s vilified most of the Middle East, in part because of their treatment of women, it’s fascinating to see how a woman from Iran perceives treatment of women. The result is an elegant and fascinating piece of filmmaking.

The film tells three short stories about three different women. The title opens the suggestion that each of these females became a woman when the story takes place, each story looking though a different perspective of womanhood. The first story is the conventional tradition of being demarked as a Middle-Eastern woman, the second story is about a quest for individual freedom and the last is about purchasing power.

The multifaceted approach gives the audience a more complex, multidimensional portrait of what it means to be a woman. However, there’s also a case to be made that by offering up these three perspectives, director Marzieh Makhmalbaf is letting the audience gravitate towards their own interpretation of what it means to be a woman.

The second story is the one that Westerners will gravitate towards while more traditional Middle Eastern audience would identify with the first story the most. A socially critical eye would find the purchasing power of the third women the economic proof of womanhood. Therefore, the film becomes a mirror by which the audience is asked to observe their own ideology of womanhood while also considering other approaches.

This is endemic of a creative decision throughout the film. Makhmalbaf tries to keep all the stories ambivalent and unresolved enough that the audience is allowed to come to their own value judgment about whether or not the element of womanhood she is representing is negative or positive. While one could argue all three are positive elements, there are also some built-in elements that suggest a sinister side to each attribute.

The first story shows that this traditional view of womanhood might cut off beautiful friendships abruptly before the individual involved even fully grasps what is going on. The second story shows that individual freedom might come at the cost of shaming one’s family and community. And the third story could be said to be perpetuated not so much by purchasing power, but greed.

The elegance of these movements makes The Day I Became a Woman a film that isn’t constructing a definitive Iranian womanhood, but bringing up issues of gender rules and womanhood that Middle Eastern women have to consider: attributes that many Western women take for granted.

The film works as both an interesting social examination and an engaging film experience. The first story does lag a bit, but the second story builds a good amount of tempo and suspense as it follows its characters and the last story is comical. And, at little over an hour, it’s a lean, provoking film that will leave audiences much more to think about than many films twice its length.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing