Women Fighting For A Voice

in 22nd Transilvania IFF, Cluj-Napoca

by Ariel Schweitzer

In the Bucharest of the 1970s, Zahra and Maria strike a close friendship while studying at university. As political turmoil brews in Iran, Zahra is forced to return home, leaving Maria behind. Over the next decade, they keep in contact through a series of letters, chronicling their struggle as women fighting for a voice, while their respective countries move in different directions. Despite the geographical distance and obstacles, their longing for each other remains strong.

The second documentary feature by Vlad Petri, winner of the FIPRESCI Award in the 22th edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival (and after having already won the FIPRESCI prize at the 73rd Berlinale), is a story of friendship (and perhaps more) between two young women caught in the turbulences of History: the Iranian revolution on the one side, the Romanian revolution on the other. The intimate story is told through this correspondence over more than ten years between Romania and Iran, while the collective and political history is narrated through archival footage that describes the great hope and then the enormous disappointment aroused by the Iranian revolution, and a decade later, the popular uprising against the Ceausescu dictatorship in Romania.

Sound and image maintain a complex, sometimes dialectical, relationship here. Although the words of the two women sometimes play a role, especially at the beginning, in the popular effervescence caused by the two revolutions, little by little, something gets broken, and the breach between these women widens as well as their intimate, individual and emotional life, and collective-political history. In Iran, Zahra’s communist father disappears, probably eliminated by the regime, and the revolution turns into an Islamist dictatorship with its share of arrests, executions and interdictions, especially for women. In Romania, Maria marries a man she does not love in order to satisfy the demands of her family, and locks herself in a routine, “petit bourgeois” existence, far from her youthful dreams.

The exchange of letters maintains the flame, both political and intimate, and we understand that what could have become a love story has been sacrificed in the name of collective History. Was it worth it? The film does not rush to answer this question, leaving it open instead. But the doubt is there, raised not only by the personal destiny of the two women, but also by the political disappointment following the two revolutions, in particular the Iranian one.

Although some of the archival footage is already known, its use by Vlad Petri remains amazing. The movements of the crowds captured in those images, both in Iran and in Romania, express the collective energy of the people and their enthusiasm, but also the eruption of violence and repression. Between the official propaganda images produced by the two regimes and the clandestine images filmed “by the people,” the film destabilizes our “regime of belief” and invites us to be vigilant regarding what we see; but also regarding what we hear… Because a title card at the end of Between Revolutions indicates that the letters written by Maria and Zahra are actually fiction, as are the two characters and their love story. We therefore face a hybrid film, using documentary images in order to develop a fictional plot, which results in some confusion and uneasiness. We get a feeling, for example, that Petri “projected” some contemporary themes, interrogations and values on to historical events in his film, such as the criticism of the patriarchal family model, or the very current feminist idea that the most progressive revolutions often end up marginalizing women, and of course the allusions he makes about a lesbian love affair which seems like a “queer” retrospective vision of the past.

These are the film’s limits, but also its strength. Because sometimes history is so ambivalent, fragile and opaque, that in order to question it in depth, fiction can be our best ally.

Ariel Schweitzer
Edited by Birgit Beumers