What is it about Iranian films that make them so damn good? I had no expectations regarding “Facing Mirrors” before seeing it because I had heard nothing about the film previous, the only reason I saw the film was because of its country of origin. However once again I was blown away by the emotional honesty of an Iranian film.
“Facing Mirrors” is the story of two women. Ranna, who is forced to drive a taxi while her husband is incarcerated to keep up with the cost of living, and Adineh, a young transsexual women, female to male, who has run away from home while waiting for her passport to be ready so she can flee Iran and have the necessary surgery. When the two initially meet, Ranna assumes that Adineh is a woman and lets her into the taxi. Adineh explains that she has to get very far from Tehran and that she will pay handsomely if Ranna takes her to where she has to go. Ranna is suspicious but cannot ignore the money factor which would help enormously. During a break in their journey for a meal, Ranna notices that Adineh enters the male toilets instead of the female ones, which confuses her. She eventually confronts Adineh about it, who decides to come clean about who she really is. Disgusted by the truth Ranna demands Adineh out of her car and attempts to drive off, but in her haste turns into the path of an oncoming bus and has an accident that leaves her in the hospital. When she awakes to find Adineh by her side, it starts the wheels in motion of a friendship that would have seen unlikely days earlier.
This is such a beautiful film with such well drawn and rounded characters. Both girls have problems in their lives but both are willing to do what they need to do to survive despite society’s views. Ranna from the outset is shown to be a very caring person who loves her family very much. She is respectful of others and so it is a shock when she initially reacts to Adineh’s story. Meanwhile Adineh herself, initially comes across as brash and aggressive, no doubt due to the way she is treated, but when she finally starts to let those defensive walls down and we see her compassionate side, she is as equally as beautiful as Ranna.
The performances from both girls are amazing, Qazal Shakeri as Ranna and Shayesteh Irani as Adineh, because as the title suggests there is a lot of internal reflection in the film. Both girls must look at what it means to be human, and forget about gender lines. Ranna initially does not understand Adineh but after just observing her playing with her son, and talking to her, she soon realizes that there is nothing different about her, and is then disgusted by the way she has treated her. Meanwhile Adineh also believes that Ranna’s life must be easier than hers without taking into consideration that she is living a life without the man she loves and who she is unlikely to be with for at least twenty years. The two characters have an amazing scene in Ranna’s bedroom where façade is dropped and the two women talk openly and honestly about their lives. It is the highlight of this amazing film due to its truth and humanity.
I must admit that I was surprised by the fact that the subject of transsexuals was explored so beautifully and honestly in a film from Iran. I was even more surprised by the fact that it is legally allowed in Iran to have the gender reassignment surgery (and that the government would even pay for it) especially in light of how they treat people who are homosexual in that country. The reason for this is that there is nothing in the Qur’an that condemns it, so it is considered alright to have the surgery. However, as Adineh states in the film, having the surgery isn’t the problem, it is the intolerance and abuse she will suffer after the surgery and this is why she wants to flee to Germany.
The director and screenwriter, Negar Azabayjani, has done a beautiful job of telling this story. There is nothing flashy about his direction, he just lets the story speaks for itself and his script is both complex in its themes while simple in its emotion. This is Azabayjani’s directorial debut and if he is going to continue to produce works of this quality in the future, he will no doubt become a powerhouse within the Iranian film industry. My only misgivings about the film, and it is a minor one, is that I felt that it got a little preachy towards the end, and that Azabayjani started to hammer his point a little too aggressively.
Overall, “Facing Mirrors” was the first film at this year’s MIFF to blow me away. It is a beautifully told tale about friendship, tolerance and acceptance and I truly hope that it gets a worldwide release similar to last year’s “A Separation”. While not quite as good as that film, it actually isn’t as far off as you would think. The wonderfully layered and complex characters of “Facing Mirrors” and the films ultimate humanity, make it a “must see” film. Let’s hope it gets the attention it deserves.