Friday 30 July 2021

Home - Academic - Ten Iranian Movies That Pass the Bechdel Test

24 Frames – Sepide Berenji: As you may recall, we previously published an article on 24 Frames Educational service that introduced the Bechdel Test; The test was designed to provide a relative measure of the effective presence of women in cinema. In the article at hand, an attempt has been made to analyze the criteria of this test for ten films from Iranian cinema.


Both the screenwriter and the filmmaker, during the process of creating their movie and the audience, while experiencing and watching the film, apply means to examine their considered benchmark in a film. A major point discussed in cultural studies during these years is the measure of women’s presence in works of art and how this presence occurs. The Bechdel test is one of the methods by which the presence of women in cinema can be evaluated by examining the answer to three simple questions. Alison Bechdel, an American cartoonist and women’s rights activist, designed the test in her well-known comic strip (Dykes to Watch Out For), which she criticized patriarchal films.


In Bechdel Test these three following requirements will be considered:


1. The movie has to have at least two named women characters

2. who talk to each other,

3. about something other than falling in love with a man


A film that answers yes to all three of these questions has passed the Bechdel test. It is important to note that this test examines the presence of women in cinema at only one scale and does not address other artistic and qualitative aspects of the film. On the other hand, not every film that succeeds in this test is necessarily a women film, and the films that fail the test are not necessarily anti-feminist and patriarchal films. The test targets the active and independent presence of women in a confrontation with each other throughout the story. These women, who are introduced to audiences under a specific name, talk to each other about their concerns, jobs, emotions, and so on; outside of the male desire.


Iranian cinema is no exception to this rule. There is no information on whether or not Iranian filmmakers were aware of and used the test after it was conceived. However, it is obvious that concerned filmmakers outside the framework of this test also take into account the points raised during the questions of this test in their works. However, today’s audience and critics can analyze and evaluate Iranian cinema according to the Bechdel test. In the following, ten films from the Iranian cinema after the revolution will be introduced and reviewed, which have passed the Bechdel test. There are not many films that fully meet the criteria of this test, but certainly, several more films can be included in this list. The reason for choosing these ten films out of the other candidates is that the characteristics of the test can be seen in different sequences of the film, not just one sequence. Also, the female characters in these ten films play a pivotal and key role throughout the film.



1. The Passengers (Bahram Beyzai – 1990)



Bahram Beyzai’s eighth feature film is about a wedding that suddenly turns into mourning. Mahrokh, who is about to get married, is waiting for his sister Mahtab with his husband two children to come to Tehran from the north to attend the wedding and bring the family heirloom mirror to her wedding, but they never make it, all dying in a car accident.


The women in this film each somehow engage in this untimely death and its decisive presence in the exciting moments of life. Although the film is streamed with the brilliant presence of life, itself, through the family’s new brides, from the very beginning, the dialogue of the women of the film is formed around the absence of Mahtab, the bride’s sister. The women in this film all have their own names and personalities.


From the very beginning, Khanoom Bozorg (the grandmother) believes in the presence of Mahtab and the mirror and life by denying everything related to death and breaking. And builds it in the form of conversations with other female characters. In the very first minutes of the film, Mahrokh and Mastan, and the grandmother, the sisters’ grandmother, talk to each other about the fact that Mahtab has not yet arrived. Next, the grandmother enters into a conversation with Mastan, her granddaughter’s wife, about the inherited mirror that Mahtab is supposed to bring with her. In another scene, Ms. Mones and the grandmother talk about Mahtab’s room. Ms. Mones prepares the room and the grandmother reminds the necessary points to provide comfort for Mahtab and her family. In another sequence, the women all stand in a frame and ask Mastan, who is talking on the phone with Hamdam, about the phone call. In the sequences after learning of Mahtab and her family’s death, a conversation takes place between the women of the family. Also including the sequence in which Mahrokh and the grandmother talk about Mahtab’s death. In general, it can be said that the women of this film talk independently in different scenes about their life and death and their encounter with these two issues.

“Passengers” won a jury special prize from Fajr Film Festival in 1991. While it is said that the judges had considered most of the awards for this film.



2. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami-2001)



“Ten” is a film that uses a digital camera to capture the life of a woman inside a car. In ten scenes, she talks to several characters, including her son, sister, a young girl, a prostitute, and a woman who wants to go to the mosque to pray.

Utilizing non-actors, the film well captures the sincere conversation women have with each other about their concerns. In the second scene, the main character, Mania, talks to her sister Mandana about her mother’s experience and her crisis and responsibilities, while at the same time reacting to events such as shopping, driving, pedestrians, and so on. In the third sequence, Mania drives an old woman. This woman is introduced as Dear Mother (Madar Jan), and her conversation with Mania, about her love for the Imamzadeh and praying and doing good to others, puts part of the identity of a traditional woman belonging to previous generations in front of a woman of today with unique concerns.

Empire Magazine has ranked “Ten” in the list of the top 500 films in the history of cinema.



3. Women’s prison (Manijeh Hekmat, 2002)



“Women’s Prison” depicts the relationships within the prison in women’s societies. In this film, the prisoners and the jailer are both women, and men do not appear except in the form of a soldier and a security guard, in a certain form. However, the main female characters all have names and the audience gets acquainted with their living world throughout the film.


The new head of the prison is a woman named Tahereh Yousefi and the leading figure of women prisoners is Mitra. The lives of the two women in prison and their relationship over three decades are narrated. This relationship has changed over the years, and the personalities of both have changed over the years. Every decade, a woman, played by Pegah Ahangrani, is present as one of the prisoners, who each time establishes an effective relationship with Mitra, as an influential woman in prison. In the first episode, the woman is named Pegah and is a political prisoner. Ten years later, this woman, named Sahar, gets involved in adventures in the heart of the prison, and in the third decade, this woman is called Sepideh, and she is a young girl who was born in prison many years ago to Mitra, who was a midwifery student. Therefore, in this film, the names of female characters are highlighted.


In different scenes, we see the dialogue of the female characters in the film. The film is based on a conversation between Ms. Javadi, a prison guard, and Tahereh Yousefi, the new head of the prison, about the prison atmosphere, and then in various scenes, we see women in prison talking to each other. The most significant dialogue scenes of the film are formed between Tahereh Yousefi and Mitra. It is one of the sequences in the first minutes of the film, which depicts Mitra protesting against the health conditions of the prison and initiates a relationship between the two women over the years.


The film has won numerous awards from the Iranian House of Cinema Festival, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress, and has participated in major international festivals such as Rotterdam and Freiburg.



4. Mother’s guest (Dariush Mehrjui- 2004)



“Mom’s Guest” tells the story of a woman who is supposed to take care of her niece and new bride, but due to financial circumstances, she cannot take care of them for dinner. Neighbors, who all live in the rooms of a large old house, hold hands and help her prepare dinner to maintain her reputation in front of guests.


The women in this film each have their own names and personalities. Ms. Effat is a mother who cares a lot about hospitality and maintaining her reputation. Sedighe is a pregnant woman who lives with her addict husband. Mash Maryam is a lonely old woman who loves her chickens and roosters. Ms. Akhavan is a kind and sympathetic woman next door, and Bahare is Ms. Effat’s daughter, who belongs to a different generation.


At the very beginning of the film, the audience realizes the situation of Ms. Effat during a conversation with her neighbor, Ms. Akhavan. In the following, conversations take place between Ms. Effat and her daughter Bahare about taking care of guests and the defamation of the father. But the most important conversational sequences among women are the sequences in which female characters prepare the dinner. For example, the sequence in which Ms. Akhavan and Sedighe bring rice and meat for Ms. Effat, or the sequence in which Sedighe asks Ms. Maryam to give one of her chickens and cook for dinner. We can also refer to a sequence in which Ms. Effat persuades Ms. Maryam to return to the party.


The film has won the Best Film of the Year award at the 22nd Fajr Film Festival and has been nominated in other categories, including Best Director, Best Film and Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.



5. Offside (Jafar Panahi – 2005)



“Offside” tells the story of girls who decide to enter the stadium in disguise because of the ban on women entering the football stadium. The women in the film, who have come to the stadium to watch Iran’s victory over Bahrain and enter the World Cup, are arrested by privates at the stadium and kept in a part of the stadium during the game before being transferred to the police station.


The film’s conversational scenes take place in two spaces: the enclosed space outside the stadium, where most of the film takes place, and the bus space, which is supposed to take them to the police station. In this film, we only notice the name of one of the characters named Akram. However, their conversations about their interest in football and their concerns about the situation in which they found themselves are significant. They are strangers who seem to be part of a group because of their mutual understanding of each other. For example, we can refer to a sequence in which one of the girls, who were able to watch a piece of football because she escaped from the soldier, describes to the girls what happened on the field and asks them to be in a football arrangement to mock.


The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was acclaimed by many critics.



6. As simple as that (Reza Mirkarimi – 2007)



“As simple as that” is the story of a day in the life of a housewife named Tahereh. The audience enters the daily life and loneliness of a woman who experiences feelings of loneliness and loss in the face of neighbors, friends, poetry teacher, children and her husband.


In the beginning, his privacy is broken when she encounters a neighbor’s new woman, Roxana, and dialogues are formed between them about house works. Ahead, Ms. Behjat, a neighbor’s woman who is holding a wedding ceremony for her daughter Minoo, receives items from Tahereh to celebrate and consults with her about how to hold the ceremony. Tahereh has harbored to poetry to get rid of the hustle and bustle of her daily life, and her dialogues with Ms. Dezfuli about her poems are one of the most important conversational sequences about Tahereh’s personal life. The pre-final sequence is dedicated to another conversation between Tahereh and Ms. Behjat. Ms. Behjat talks about her motherly anxieties and worries about her teenage daughter’s wedding to Tahereh and asks her to pray because she believes Tahereh is immaculate and only an immaculate one can do this for her daughter.

“As simple as that” has won the Crystal Simorgh for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress from the 26th Fajr Film Festival.



7. Persepolis (Marjan Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud – 2007)


“Persepolis” is an animation that tells the story of the life of Marjan Satrapi, from her childhood in Iran before her migration to France. This film is a product of France and is based upon the illustrated story of Persepolis, written by Marjan Satrapi.


Marjan, the main character of this animation, enters into a conversation with various women during the film. For example, we can refer to Dr. Schloss, who spends some time with Marjan in Austria and talks to her about living conditions in that house. However, the most important scenes among the women in the film are related to Marjan’s conversations with her mother, Taji, and especially her grandmother. One of the scenes of the conversation with Taji is where Marjan is depressed after returning from Austria and her mother asks her to get out of this situation and prepare herself for the entrance exam.


The most influential conversations, however, take place between Marjan and her grandmother. As she grows older and goes through a variety of ups and downs, she comes to an understanding of herself and the world around her that depends more than anything on her conversations with her grandmother. At every turning point in her life, it is her grandmother’s presence and words that guide and accompany her. Before her trip to Austria, Marjan’s grandmother tells her: “In your life, you will face a lot of stupids. Remember this stupidity that pushes them towards evil. This advice always saves you from going to ugliness, because there is nothing worse than bitterness and revenge. “Always be honest with yourself and know who you really are.”


The film won a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival.



8. Trapped (Parviz Shahbazi – 2012)



Nazanin is a female junior student from a small town that came to Tehran to study medicine. She is obliged to rent a house in Tehran due to the distance from her house to the university. Her roommate is a girl named Sahar who works in a perfume shop and intends to immigrate from Iran. The living with each other changes both of their lives and creates events for Nazanin that she never even imagined.


Although Nazanin and Sahar are involved in adventures with the men around them, they have conversational scenes throughout the film that are completely independent of these adventures. Nazanin and Sahar meet in a perfume shop and a conversation takes place about the condition of the house and its costs. During this conversation, they also share information about their lives. The family, issues related to the home, and the recognition of personal characteristics and the letter of the judiciary are among the topics that the two talk about in the process of getting to know each other. In fact, the situation of mutual living is the cause of conversations between them. The story of their argument over the daily guests and their reconciliation sequence is also told in relation to this situation.


In addition to Sahar, Nazanin also faces other women. For example, her classmate Mona, who first meets her, introduces her to Nazanin, a real estate consultant. After the fight with Sahar, she goes to Mona’s house and talks to her about her condition. In another scene, they talk about college books and student rallies. In addition to Mona, Nazanin enters the lives of several teenage girls as a private tutor. For example, Dorsa, who seems to be a weak student, and her mother asks Nazanin for a guarantee of college acceptance.


“Trapped” has won the best director, best Supporting Actress, and best Cinematography from the 31st Fajr Film Festival.



9. Lovely Trash (Mohsen Amiryousefi – 2012)



Monir is an elderly woman who lives alone in an old house and has a close relationship with her cousin Sima. In the midst of the protests of 2009, some of the protesters, along with Sima, took refuge in Monir’s home. After that, Monir notices a sign on her door and, based on rumors, thinks that the security guards will come to her home soon. This house has gone through various historical periods and now Monir wants to collect and dispose of any suspicious items she finds in the house. In his fantasies, she enters into a dialogue with four photo frames of four important men in her life so that she can completely clean the house.


Monir and Sima’s first conversation takes place when Sima opens the door of the house to the protesters and then talks about political issues and the present and the past of themselves and their families. In the final scenes of the film, Sima, injured and tired, takes refuge in Monir’s home. Negin, Sima’s friend, also enters Monir’s home in one of the scenes to delete the computer information and they talk about cleaning the house as well as the photo frames.


This film has won the award for the best screenplay of the 21st Iranian Cinema Festival.



10. Atom Heart Mother (Ali Ahmadi – 2014)



Arine and Nobahar are two close friends who want to return home after their friend’s night party, but on the way home, they get involved in adventures that make them spend a strange night in the streets of Tehran. A man named Toofan suddenly appears and causes trouble. He claims to be from a parallel world and intends to take Nobahar with him to his own world.


Throughout the film, the two friends talk about various issues in their daily lives. For example, in one of the long sequences, they talk about the soundtrack of their childhood program. Driving, Arine migration, Nobahar disease, family and friends, threats of nightlife are among the topics of conversation.


The film was screened in the forum section of the 65th Berlin Film Festival.





Written by Sepide Berenji

Translated by Erfan Nazarianpour

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