just another girl
On Rassul Sadr-e Ameli's "I'm Taraneh,15"
By Poopak Taati
May 2, 2003
"I'm Taraneh,15" is an inspiring movie, showing aspects
of Iranian culture -- the youth, women, family relations, social
interactions -- that are often portrayed frankly in movies, poems,
and other artistic expressions, but are rarely discussed and analyzed
in public forums.
The movie warms up your heart as you see the cheerful smiles of
young Taraneh and admire her strength of character and resourcefulness.
When she struggles to survive and win against all odds, you cannot
but respect her and the culture she carries in her words and actions.
Rassul Sadr-e Ameli's depiction is so realistic that you will not
doubt the truth of Taraneh's life circumstances or her reactions.
Taraneh is a 15-year-old model student in school who works in a
photo shop, but also takes care of her ill grandmother. Her mother
has passed away many years ago and her father is a nice, mild-mannered,
middle-aged man whom she visits in prison, although it is not clear
what crime he committed.
Taraneh is a source of joy to her Dad, but so is he to her. This
is a father well worth having as he is sensitive, caring, and treats
her daughter as a precious being. No wonder Taraneh shows good judgment
and wisdom even at the age of fifteen. It takes good parenting to
develop a character like Taraneh.
Taraneh notices that Amir Hossein is pursuing her, a handsome young
man of a comfortable background working for his father's business
in the next door shop. He seems obsessed by young Taraneh, taking
pictures of her and following her home even though she does not
welcome such attentions.
When she finally confronts him that his attentions could get her
fired from the photo shop, he confesses he is in love and wishes
to marry her. He is aware of her family difficulties, but is amazed
by her character and knows well she is not just another girl in
town. Impressed, young Taraneh trusts Amir Hossein's love and accepts
his proposal, taking his affection to heart.
Unfortunately, this marriage does not have the blessings of Amir
Hossein's mother, a secular woman, with "feminist" tendencies,
who is the head of a women's organization. Not so ironically in
the cultural context of Iranian society, Mrs. Keshmiri, not a traditionally
minded woman, suggests instead that Amir Hossein and Taraneh have
a temporary religious marriage (sigheh), although she surely
would have never approved of the same types of arrangements for
her own daughter.
Mrs. Keshmiri is angry with her son for falling in love with Taraneh.
She says her son is young, immature, confused and cannot take on
the responsibilities of a marriage. Maybe she is right, or maybe
Amir Hossein, in choosing to love Taraneh, wants to rebel against
a mother who is lacking in trust and is possessed by materialistic
outlook and love of herself.
Mrs. Keshmiri cannot clarify for herself, her son or Taraneh the
sources of her worries. She seems unable to think honestly that
Amir Hossein's narcissistic tendencies might mirror her own personality.
She somehow considers all of his flaws justified and instead blames
Taraneh for having made the young man admire her. She can only show
anger, nothing more.
Taraneh, even if 15, is able to notice the hypocrisy of Amir Hossein's
mother, though she is above acknowledging her mistreatments. She
is confident that her own abilities will turn the circumstances
to her favor. In addition, she seems to need the love of Amir Hossein
in her life now that her grandmother is passing away and her father
is still in jail. "He can be the source of comfort and support
she never seems to have," a false sense of security that Taraneh's
family shared with many others in society about marriage relationships.
Amir Hossein and Taraneh agree to Mrs. Kashmiri's idea of a temporary
marriage, on the condition that a real marriage should follow when
Taraneh's schooling is over. A "sigheh," arrangement
is less than desirable as this type of relationship is often imposed
on young women of lower classes in relations with men of comfortable
backgrounds, mostly to eliminate any chances for long term family
bonds and commitments, following a short union. Both families seem
aware of the negative connotations.
Yet, sigheh turns out a blessing in disguise for Taraneh,
when four months after, she decides to divorce Amir Hossein. Had
she been married in a "permanent" arrangement, she would
have had a hard time proving him "at fault" in court.
But now, she only needs to cancel the contract when it becomes obvious
that Amir Hossein is still immature, acting as if relationships
are forms of conquest. She can not but lose respect and love for
this husband. Her father supports the decision.
Amir Hossein is not the man with whom Taraneh could build a long-lasting
relationship. He is anything but the friend and lover she had craved.
Whatever the reasons for his narcissism and endless quest for sexual
pleasures, he obviously lacks empathy and the ability to love and
respect Taraneh. All she knew is that the relationship was not supportive
of her and it would not be wise to continue feeling miserable.
The whole mistake could have ended at this point, as Amir Hossein's
mother sends him to Germany now that the divorce is finalized. But,
as if life had not presented Taraneh with enough challenges, she
has to face yet another. Soon, she learns she is pregnant and does
not know the choices before her.
She goes to Amir Hossein's mother for advice who claims her organization
helps women. Instead of any consultation and care, Taraneh gets
the angry outbursts of a mother who accuses her of having affairs
and insists that the baby could not be her son's. She fears that
Taraneh wants to share in her son's inheritance -- perhaps the only
real reason she had objected to the marriage in the first place.
So much for Mrs. Keshmiri's brand of feminism and sense of motherhood!
Could anyone expect Amir Hossein to turn out a responsible, caring,
and truthful man?
Taraneh takes upon herself the task of proving that Amir Hossein
is the father of her child. After all, her reputation is on line,
and she lacks the resources needed to raise her daughter. What is
the responsibility of a man who is the father of her child in a
legally recognized although temporary marriage?
Mrs. Keshmiri does not care about Taraneh's reputation or financial
well-being. Assuming that the young woman's modest background and
lack of a close family will make her succumb to pressure, she first
threatens her and then pushes her to abort the pregnancy without
giving any reasonable explanations. When she fails to get Taraneh's
cooperation, she offers her charity money, which she gracefully
rejects. Then, Mrs. Keshmiri sends one of her employees to propose
marriage to her and adopt the child. This angers Taraneh and makes
her sure in taking legal actions.
In court, Mrs. Keshmiri uses her charm, her power, her status, and
everything else to portray Taraneh as a "loose" woman
whose child could not be her son's. Taraneh studies the law in order
to defend herself, but she has to admit to the judge her ignorance.
Fortunately, the judge unimpressed by Mrs. Keshmiri's positioning
makes the fair decision, giving Taraneh's child the right to carry
her father's last name.
The struggles of Taraneh all seem real. Sadr-e Ameli keeps you guessing
where the movie is headed as it is impossible to overestimate the
loneliness of this girl in a city like Tehran and in confrontation
with family-based influences. But, you have to be careful not to
underestimate her either! She is surely not just another girl in
"I am Taraneh 15" is a lot more than its story and much
more than good acting. This is a film that challenges your cultural
assumptions and makes you think of the far-reaching effects of a
strong and sensitive love bond between the only two members of a
family, a daughter and a father. Surely, love shows its wonders
when it matters most.
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