Monday, October 15, 2007

daughters of the sun, by maryam shahriar

This is how Maryam Shahriar, director of the Iranian feature Daughters of the Sun (2003), chooses to shoot a wedding procession:

And this is how she chooses to shoot a funeral procession:

Does the similarity between these two shots imply a world-view? Something about the relationship between human beings and the larger forces of the World? Before you answer, check out a few more shots of human endeavor from the film:

So, OK. Film club compatriot Skunkcabbage picked this film as the follow-up to last week's pick, Thirteen (2003), in part to investigate how the experience of teenage girlhood plays out cross-culturally. In our own culture, adolescence is a period in which we (ideally) have the luxury to undergo the process of "individuation," but given that the role of the individual seems pretty radically downplayed in the Iran we see in Daughters of the Sun, we should maybe expect the process to look pretty different. And, sure enough, adolescence in this film functions as little more than mark the period at which you get to go off and start laboring as a weaver:

Maybe if you're especially canny you can get a marginally better supervisior-type position at the weaving station by concocting a scheme wherein you disguise yourself as a boy, like our protagonist does:

It's important to underline here that Amanagol's disguise here is something born of sheer financial necessity: it is never presented in the film as anything resembling self-expression or gender exploration. There's no "I don't know who I am" angst in this film, any more than there are any of the other "normal" (read: Western middle-class) dramas of adolescence ("no one understands me"; "I never get to do anything"). If there's any familiar marker of teenage girlhood in this film, it's in the occasional expressions of palpable yearning for a better life, but there's never any sense the social system they're in will ever reward that yearning with anything but a swift reduction to dust.

The film, in fact, takes some pains to systematically discount the potential of hopeful alternatives. We see some, here and there, including a rough-and-tumble travelling musician who looks like he might function as a romantic lead:

Or this guy, who has a homemade Ferris wheel that looks like it's meant for a world where there's some mirth, somewhere:

Or this guy, a person from the government, vaguely associated with the promise of social services:

The overlapping narrative lines here begin to recall something like Do the Right Thing (Film Club V), but whereas Do the Right Thing portrays a lively (if tense) community, Daughters of the Sun is very much the opposite: there's no community at all, just a series of atomized individuals, who could potentially help one another but who end up amounting to nothing but so many missed connections. The musician turns out to be a common thief, the Ferris wheel operator never encounters a single child, and the government agent, in a near-Beckett-grade development, spends the whole movie driving around looking for the village he's assigned to. Pretty grim stuff, not exactly the celebration of "the strength of Iranian women" that the Netflix sleeve promises.

Next week we continue with the theme of Suffering Teenage Girls with my pick, Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, the fourteenth-most acclaimed film of all time, according to the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? aggregate list.

Unscrambled's write-up is here.

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