Two Women (1999)
a<1> Two Women (1999)
<2> drama
<3> 4
<4> Not to be confused with the 1961 Italian film (for which Sophia Loren won an Oscar),
<I> Two Women <R> is a fine, if slightly flawed, examination of the plight of intelligent,
independent-minded females in Iran. Written and directed with skill by Tahmineh Milani,
<I> Two Women <R> had its New York premiere at New Directors/New Films, where it stood
out as one of the best of this year's crop. Whereas the American feminist movement hit its stride
in the 1970s and inarguably effected some social changes which are almost taken for granted
today, Iran has remained a repressive, patriarchal society. The fascinating theme of Milani's
feature is the fate suffered by an independent-minded woman in such a world. In contrast, her
college chum who was no less intelligent, fares better by not subverting the societal code.<p>
The film opens in the present where Roya (Marila Zare'i) works side by side with her husband in
an architectural firm. Roya is as close to a modern woman as one can get in contemporary,
post-revolutionary Iran. (She still wears traditional dress but can order an underling to put on a
hardhat and seems to share a loving partnership with her spouse.) Roya receives a phone call
from her old friend Fereshteh (Niki Karimi) whose husband has suffered a heart attack. On her
way to the hospital, Roya flashes back to their first meeting some fifteen years earlier when both
were attending Tehran University. A study in contrasts, the two women forged a bond of
friendship when Fereshteh agreed to tutor Roya. Admiring the way Fereshteh excelled in what
were considered male domains -- math and science -- Roya tells her, "If you lived in England or
the U.S., you'd be turning cartwheels at Oxford or Harvard." But for Fereshteh, her presence at
university was hard won. Her family's poverty and her father's contention she should be married
and bearing grandchildren seemed to be the spur that drove her on. Because of her intelligence,
she projected a confidence that many of her classmates seemed to lack.<p>
It may have been that self-assuredness which attracted Hassan (Mohammed Reza Forutan), a
menacing figure who stalks Fereshteh as an expression of his affection. Roya is terrified of him by
the object of his attention refuses to be cowed. Only after Hassan attacks her cousin with acid --
he has mistaken the young man for a rival suitor -- does Fereshteh collapse. With the
revolutionary unrest unfolding, the university is closed and Fereshteh returns to her rural home.
The stalker, though, tacks her down and gives chase on his motorcycle. A tragic accident and the
ensuing court case leave Fereshteh vulnerable. She has shamed her family, and it appears she is
being punished for behaving as an independent woman. Her family arranges a marriage to a
kindly older neighbor who promised his new wife that once order has been restored she can
resume her education. Unlike Roya, though, who found a supportive partner and went on to
embody a "modern" woman in post-revolutionary Iran, Fereshteh lands in a world run by
tradition. In spite of all the hardships she must endure and through two children, she retains that
streak of independence, but fate exacts a terrible price.<p>
Although the film is titled <I>Two Women<R>, the movie really is Fereshteh's story and Niki
Karimi offers a strong performance in the role. She is utterly believable as the Job-like Fereshteh,
never faltering in her desires. While some may see her character as a willing participant in her
own destiny, writer-director Milani makes no judgments. She merely allows the circumstances to
unfold uncritically, relying on the viewers to draw their own conclusions. The film is marred by a
weak ending and some repetitions but overall it is a fascinating look at modern Iran from the
female perspective.
<p> Murphy, Ted
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.