“Facing Mirrors,” at the LGBT Film Festival
Iranian film "Facing Mirrors" is the nation's first narrative to feature a transgender main character. The film screens on Saturday at the UWM Union Theatre.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Iranian made Facing Mirrors is that the film was ever produced in the first place. Iran is a country known for stringent government censorship, so it came as quite a surprise to see a sympathetic film about a transsexual come out of such a seemingly intolerant country. I pictured something like Leni Riefenstahl directing Schindler’s List, but this film does not speak through the mouth of the oppressor – it speaks to it.
The film opens on Rana (played by Qazal Shakeri) a sheltered young mother who, after her husbands imprisonment, has been forced to defy social norms and take a job as a cab driver. First time director Negar Azarbayjani immediately draws attention to the oppressive nature of Iran’s social norms—no matter what the situation, a woman should not work. Her place is in the home.
Again, not the sort of commentary you’d expect from a country that recently introduced “The Supreme Council of Cyberspace” into its bylaws.
In order to avoid suspicion from her family and neighbors, Rana stays out of the city on her routes, a decision to leads her to Adineh (Shayesteh Irani). Rana encounters Adineh (or Edi, as she prefers) as she is being run down by a couple of aggressive skirt-chasers. Rana wisps her away into the safety of her cab, and the odd-couple road film begins.
After being caught using the men’s restroom, Edi realizes that she can no longer hide her secret from Rana. She reveals that her father is forcing her into marriage, and that she is on the run until her passport arrives in the mail. Once outside the country, away from her father’s oppressive ideas about honor, she plans to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
Rana, having never been exposed to such an idea, reacts violently and forces Edi out of the cab with a slap. In her haste to get away, she drives straight into an oncoming bus.
Both women have basically been forced into hiding, a challenge they face on a daily basis. Rana must hide her position as a bread-winning woman, while Edi is perpetually caught between her performative gender roles, never sure which to hide and which to reveal.
When you get down to it, this is basically a protest film. It speaks about humanity, individuality, and compassion, ultimately calling for a reexamination of antiquated social and cultural norms. Never heavy-handed or saccharine, Facing Mirrors handles these issues with great care and lays out a roadmap to progress.