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Not just another girl
On Rassul Sadr-e Ameli's "I'm Taraneh,15"

By Poopak Taati
May 2, 2003
The Iranian

"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 town!

"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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