Women's Prison

in 17th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Kora Tsereteli

„Women’s Prison“, has to be admitted, is a significant event of the Fribourg Film Festival and notable from several points of view. The debut feature of Iranian female director Manijeh Hekmat presents a summery of her long field work on women prisoners in Iran.. It’s a story of the daily life –over 17 years- of several women, who were in jail for various crimes –murder, robbery, prostitution, political views… The real reasons of all the tragic destinies, including the Warden’s, comes from the economic and social disaster, despotism of the political regimes and lack of human rights in today’s Iran. We can hardly imagine the difficulties and danger the director confronted in realizing her project, or how she managed to convince authorities to let her work in real jails?!

The story is based on Manijeh’s own experience, real characters and events she watched in jails. Tahereh –the women with strong religious beliefs- is commissioned by authorities to calm down the atmosphere in the jail. She comes across a young prisoner –Mitra- who has been given a life sentence for killing her stepfather in order to save her mother. These two women are thrown together through contempt and hatred, finally in harmony. Time passes and Tahereh’s dogmatic views and attitude towards the prisoners change. She actually becomes involved in releasing Mitra –her arch-enemy. Old and tired Mitra is finally released, leaving behind an old and exhausted jailbird Tahere. Both of them find themselves losers in the long and bloody fight.

The duet of two strong characters skilfully played by Poya Taymourian and Roja Nonahali creates the main nerve of the story. Young gifted actress Regah Ahangarani portrays the Iranian juveniles in three different periods during 17 years. First as a political activist, second- a war stricken and drug addicted girl who tries to help her family through her efforts to work in jail and commits suicide at the end. The third character is a street girl and pickpocket who is born in jail at the beginning of the film and 17 years later she returns to the same cell. Through the vivid and developing characters beautifully played one can consider the prison as a microcosm of Iranian society at large.

The value of Manijeh Heckmat’s directing is that nothing is overplayed by actresses or over focused or over shown. The ideas of the movie are presented very modestly, without any hints of sentimentality. The camerawork is very discreet – it is one setting- in an enclosed prison -and the only motor to keep the story going is time passing. The result is nevertheless very impressive.

All the above mentioned values transform the fiction into an impressive document on a given moment in modern Iran.

Kora Tsereteli