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'Hidden Half' Explores the Plight of Women in Iran

The film's female director, out on bail, was jailed for her movie by the Islamic Revolutionary Court.

October 05, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Feminist Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani's courageous but uneven "The Hidden Half" landed the director in jail, charged by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court of supporting "those waging war against God" and misusing the arts in support of counterrevolutionary and armed opposition groups.

For a film about a dutiful wife and mother who decides to tell her husband, a high-ranking judge, about her turbulent student days with their intertwined political and romantic entanglements, this seems more than a tad overreacting.

While critical of the status of women in a theocratic Islamic nation, the film is more concerned with raising consciousness than a call to arms. Milani's arrest was criticized by Iran's President Mohammad Khatami, who lamented that "skilled Iranians are emigrating because they believe they are subject to injustice." Milani is free on $25,000 bail.

The film's title has a double meaning. Most obviously it refers to the repression of Iranian women, but it also refers to the need to hear both sides of a story.

When Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) learns that her husband of 17 years, Khosro (Mohammad Nikbin), is being dispatched to Shiraz from Tehran to hear out a woman facing execution, she is so concerned that her husband--whom she loves and respects--really listen to what the woman has to say that she writes him a long letter to read while traveling to Shiraz.

The film proceeds as a long flashback. Fereshteh, from a large and impoverished provincial family, is thrilled to attend the University of Tehran, courtesy of a wealthy relative. She arrives in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution a nave, idealistic but bright 18-year-old, eager to understand the wrenching changes transforming Iranian society and not realizing they will soon prove repressive rather than liberating for women.

She first falls under the spell of a group of female Maoists, whose radical activities spell inevitable trouble, only to be captivated by a sophisticated and celebrated middle-aged intellectual (Atila Pesyani) who has the looks and manner of a suave lounge lizard and speaks of the importance of romantic love and free expression. Naturally, he fails to mention he's married. But she realizes she's guilty of not listening to his side of the story when confronted by his wife in a protracted scene straight out of a '40s Hollywood women's picture.

The film's melodramatic streak, compounded by its talkiness--Milani understandably has a lot to say--makes it heavy going at times. But these drawbacks, while not inconsiderable, are offset by Milani's effectively convoluted storytelling and by Karimi's far-ranging portrayal of Fereshteh, who, as she approaches her 40th birthday, is a woman who has come into her own under most difficult circumstances.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: complex adult themes.

'The Hidden Half'

('Nimeh-Ye Penhan')

Niki Karimi: Fereshteh

Mohammad Nikbin: Fereshteh's husband

Atila Pesyani: The intellectual

An Iranian Film Society presentation of an Arta Film production. Writer-director Tahmineh Milani. Producers Tahmineh Milani and Mohammad Nikbin. Cinematographer Mahmud Kalari. Editor Bahram Deghani. Music Amir Moini. Production designer Iraj Raminfar. In Farsi, with English subtitles.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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