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This chapter focuses on the director Tamhineh Milani because
she played a prominent role in bringing international attention to Iranian
cinema during the 1990s as well as pushing the boundaries of the censorship
laws in Iran. Her films daringly spearhead the issues of stalking, domestic and
emotional abuse, harassment, patriarchy, divorce, and motherhood. Many of these
subjects were seen as taboo in Iranian cinema. This chapter discusses two of
her films that are relevant to female filmmaker’s success in Iranian cinema.
The first film is Two Women, which
came out in 1999, followed by her 2001 film The
Hidden Half.

Tahmineh Milani was born in Iran in 1960 and is considered to
be from the second generation of female filmmakers in Iran.1
This means that she would have been only a teenager during the Iranian Revolution.
There are many women filmmakers that contributed to the Iranian film industry
but I chose to write about Milani because of the skilful way she gets her films
past the censorship boards. When she is applying for film permits she
emphasizes more accepted themes such as motherhood rather than draw attention
to more controversial themes that may challenge the Islamic ideologies. This
way she can still achieve what she wants in her films. The way she uses her
scripts to get around the censorship board and portray what she wants is an art
form in itself. Milani identifies herself as a feminist. She believes that the identity crisis, the double lives of
Iranian people at the present social situation and discrimination against women
are the most pressing problems in Iranian society2.
The central themes of her movies are mostly focused on gender legal
discrimination and unequal gender structure and relations. In a recent
interview she said “For me the best way to change things is by challenging
things and provoking discussion. If this happens then it will bring changes. Therefore,
when I make a movie my aim is to challenge society. Some people don’t like this
and disagree but the most important thing is to talk and be able to publicly
debate these issues. This will help people to think more deeply about issues
that they face.”3
Milani originally studied architecture but when the universities of Iran closed
down during the 1979 Revolution, she started a career in film. This has
influenced many of her films, which are often set in the same time period and
influence her story telling.

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    Tamineh Milani’s
1999 film, Two Women is set around
the beginning of the 1979 Revolution. The film begins with one of the main
characters, Roya receiving a phone call from an old friend. Her friend,
Fereshteh, is calling Roya to ask for help as her husband has been brought into
the hospital with life threatening injuries. The film then moves on to tell the
story of how Roya and Fereshteh became friends through a series of flashbacks. Both
women are at university together. Fereshteh is a hardworking and strong willed
person from a poor family. She is extremely clever and pays for her tuition by
tutoring other students. Roya is from a rich family who is having trouble
keeping up in her classes and asks Fereshteh to help her with her studies. From
here, they create a strong friendship. Fereshteh has no interest in marrying
despite appearing to have many suitors. She later attracts a stalker who stops
at nothing to gain her attention. Her stalker quickly turns violent and the
film turns very sinister from this point. Though Fereshteh is a victim, her
father blames her for having unwanted attention and forces her to leave university
and return to her hometown. Soon after, all the universities in Iran close
down. Fereshteh is horrified to find out that her stalker has followed her
home. This concludes in a car chase where Fereshteh is fleeing from Hassan and
ends in disaster. While Fereshteh only injures a child, Hassan kills one of the

Still from Two Women.  Both main characters watch in horror as a raid
breaks out in their college. 1999.

     This is only the
beginning of Fereshteh’s problems.  Fereshteh
agrees to marry one of her suitors on the condition that she will be allowed to
finish her degree when the universities reopen. Her new husband, Ahmad, doesn’t
stay true to his word however. It is revealed that Ahmad is a jealous and
controlling husband who traps Fereshteh in her own home, separating her from
the outside world. We learn of how her mental state begins to weaken through
Fereshteh’s own narration. 13 years pass and Fereshteh has two children. Fereshteh
is confronted with more horror when she realises her stalker has been released
from prison and has been waiting outside her house. A chase begins and the
stalker corners Fereshteh down an alleyway. Ahmad attacks Hassan, killing him
but not before getting fatally injured. This scene reveals how Fereshteh’s
husband ended up in hospital, bringing us back to the present day with her
friend Roya. Ahmad dies soon after and Fereshteh is free to live her life for
the first time in 13 years. The film ends with Fereshteh voicing her worries to
Roya that she has forgotten how to live.

    Like many Iranian filmmakers, Milani uses a
naturalistic style and epic narrative script for Two Women. Throughout the film, Fereshteh voices her fate and
complaints through narration. However, the film changes into something a lot
bleaker, turning into a type of horror film as Fereshteh’s life turns bad. This
is due to the harrowing content within the story.

 Fig. 7, Screenshot
taken from Two Women. Fereshteh
returns home to see her children . 1999.

In figure 7, we see Fereshteh return home during a storm to
try take her children away from her husband. The use of lightning against the
shadows thrown by Fereshteh’s hijab adds a very eerie feel to the scene. This
coupled with scenes of Fereshteh running through the wind with her hijab
flowing out around her ads for a similar effect.  Milani uses hand held tension, winding
staircases and uses the altitude from this to create a bleak feeling in the
Though the film is called Two Women, it
is really only about one. Roya’s character only acts to be compared to
Fereshteh and to highlight the misfortunes that are conflicted on Iranian women
by the Islamic government. Roya and Fereshteh are two different sides of the
same character. Both reflect the opposite futures that are possible for Iranian

    Although the film
is not about the Iranian Revolution, it is a constant presence in the film,
constantly on the outskirts of the story. This is reflected in public scenes
such as bathrooms, bus stops and classrooms. These places are temporary and do
not belong to any particular character within the film.

Fig. 8, Screenshot taken from Two Women . The two main characters converse
while walking by a protest outside the college. 1999.

This is evident in figure 8 when we see Roya and Fereshteh
converse while walking by a protest outside the college. The increase in the
popularity of the misogynistic Islamic Republic reflects Fereshteh’s own
All of her trauma stems from the three prominent male figures in her life, her
father, her husband and a stalker. The present spectre of sexual violence from
her stalker and husband echoes the march of radical Islamic rule In Iran. 6  As none of the characters in the film are directly
linked to the Islamic Revolution, the film was eventually approved by the
censorship board.

    When Fereshteh
creates a self-defence group called the Apaches and later is broken down by her
marriage, it reflects the freedom she once had that was stolen from her.  Fereshteh prematurely ages and tension rises
towards the time when she gives birth to her two children. This mounting
tension is similar to a slasher film by using the most obvious sign of
womanhood as a symbol of horror. All of Fereshteh’s strength and aspiration
have been murdered with the mark of childbirth7.
When Fereshteh finally meets her old friend Roya, she looks warn down and is
wearing the traditional full-length black hijab. The way Fereshteh dresses
throughout the film is symbolic to how she changes. This can be seen in figures
6,8 and 9. At the beginning of the film, Fereshteh is seen wearing colourful
and more modern clothes but as her circumstances gradually change, so do her
clothes. Her dress sense becomes darker as she feels less and less in control
of her life. This concludes with the full-length black hijab when finally she
reunites with Roya. This scene adds more to the idea that the film ends as a
horror. Milani purposefully tries to dramatize the harrowing content of the
story to create a lasting impact for the viewer.

Fig. 9, Screenshot taken from Two Women. Fereshteh is finally reunited
with her friend, Roya. 1999.                                                             

The difference in how Roya and Fereshteh are dressed is also
very symbolic. As shown in figure 10, the viewer sees Roya at her work place
obviously showing her sense of authority. This is shown through her confident
demeanour and how she is dressed. In figure 10, she wears a headscarf and dress
that is traditionally associated with femininity. However, there are also
contrasting elements to her costume such as a hard hat that is often associated
with masculinity. This coupled with her sunglasses, business phone and her body
language makes Roya’s character radiate authority. Roya reflects everything
that Fereshteh could not have. Roya returned to university when they reopened
and finished her degree. She is dressed as a more modern woman and owns a car. Unlike
Fereshteh, she has a thriving career. She married one of her work colleague and
has a healthy relationship with him. This scene is important as it explains the
meaning of the title.

Fig. 10, Screenshot taken from Two Women.  Roya at her workplace. 1999.

    Though the film is
not about Roya, her life reflects the life Fereshteh could have had. The film
shows how two women with the same aspirations can have two very different lives
as a result of the Islamic rule in Iran. Two
Women is a perfect example of how Tamineh Milani skilfully gets her scripts
by the censorship board in Iran and manages to deal with taboo themes at the
same time. The censorship board could have chosen not to release this film on
the grounds that it showed violence, abuse and scenes from the Islamic
revolution. At first glance this film is about stalking and domestic and
emotional abuse. However Milani questions much deeper themes about Iranian
culture such as womanhood and patriarchy. She also touches upon the risky
subject of the Iranian Revolution. When Two
Women was released in Iran it was banned for several months by the
censorship board but due to its popularity was later released.8
The film later won the award for best screenplay at the Fajr Film Festival 1999
and Best Actress for Niki Karimi at the Taormina Film Festival who played the
role of Fereshteh.

    Another one of
Milani’s films that I am particularly interested in is her 2001 film, The Hidden Half which she won Best
Artist Contribution at the 25th Cairo International Film Festival for.  She also made international headlines in 2001
because of this film when the Islamic Republic arrested her. Her charges were
using art to promote anti-Islamic values. The film contained scenes about anti-
revolutionary groups.9  Milani was the first filmmaker in her country
that was arrested for these charges.

    The main character
of the film, Fereshteh Samimi gives her husband her journal to read, revealing
her hidden past. The journal reveals that when she was 18, Fereshteh joined a
revolutionary communist group which leads to a love affair with an older man.
Fereshteh’s husband is a judge and is currently interviewing a woman who has
been sentenced to death and is looking for repeal. Fereshteh gives the journal
to her husband in the hope that he will be more opened minded when interviewing
this woman. This film addresses taboo themes such as limited expression in
Iran, women’s roles in the revolution, marriage and the right to romance.10  There are two meanings behind the title of
this film. The first meaning refers to the repression of Iranian women. The
second meaning refers to the need to hear both sides of a story. During the
flashbacks Fereshteh is perceived to be a young, naive idealist who wishes to
understand the changes in Iranian society at this time.11
However, as time moves on, she quickly realises that these changes prove to be
repressive rather than liberating for Iranian women.

     While Two Women only hinted at the topic of
the Iranian revolution, The Hidden Half is
more direct in addressing it. However, the film is still not as direct as you
would think. The film is full of symbolism. The main example of this is through
use of Fereshteh’s diary.

Fig.11  Still from The Hidden Half.  Fereshteh  writing the diary that she will give to her
husband. 2001.

Milani is careful not to pass a direct judgement in the film.
The film is a story about a story and the diary acts as a tool to dramatize the
repression of the Iranian people.12
The diary only reflects the thoughts of a character within the story and not
the director. In figure 11, we see Fereshteh in a traditional black hijab writing
in the diary she later gives to her husband. The hijab is often seen as a
symbol of silence and in this case, it is used to add to the symbolism of the
diary. The use of Fereshteh’s diary symbolises the lack of voice Iranian women
have in their society. Fereshteh feels it is necessary to write down her hidden
past and hide it in her husband’s suitcase rather than voice it aloud. The
unnamed women who her husband is going to visit whose life is threatened
because of a similar past proves this.   Tamineh
Milani’s own prosecution for making this film aids in solidifying her views of
the treatment of Iranian women.

     By making a film
that confronts the Iranian government with its problems, Milani even faced the
death penalty for a short period before being released due to worldwide
protests. She says “It was the first time an Iranian director had been jailed
in my country but I don’t think I was arrested because the movie was so
critical of the government. They were afraid that my film would encourage other
directors and that there would be more movies—better and even deeper than
mine—about this period. So the government arrested me to send a message to
others—don’t make these sorts of films. Since then nobody has made a film about
this subject.”13

Still from The Hidden Half. Feresheh
reunites with her old love interest and realised she was guilty of not hearing
both sides of the story. 2001.

    The second meaning
within The Hidden Half, the need to
hear both sides of a story shows through the relationship Fereshteh has with
the love interest from her hidden past. Fereshteh takes the word of a stranger
rather than confronting the person she knows. In figure 12 we see her reunite
with her old love interest, Roozebeh.  Though
Fereshteh realises she may have been wrong to shut him out, she still is not
willing to hear his side of the story. This is seen in her body language with
her back to Roozebeh.

    Tamineh Milani uses
her film making as a tool to inform her viewers of the changes that need to be made
in her culture. Her films are not just a form of entertainment. She continues
to try to make films about the difficult problems in Iran. She is currently
trying to make a film about Iranian women who kill their husbands but has been
met with a lot of resistance in Iran14.
Her films follow similar themes found in New Wave Iranian Cinema such as family
life and war. They take on the signature naturalistic style found in Iranian
Cinema but also stand on their own. It is important to note that the same actor
with the same name, Feresheh, plays many of Milani’s main characters. This
could perhaps be a reference to all Iranian women. Milani is not telling the
story of one unfortunate incidence of one woman. She is telling the story of
all Iranian women that do not have voices. While watching all of Milani’s
films, the viewer is constantly aware that Milani is trying to send a very
critical message about her society. This has led to mixed reviews about her
films but none the less makes them stand out. Tamineh Milani’s works helped
create a platform for other female filmmakers where they can question social
and political problems in Iran. An example is Samira Makhmalbaf who uses film
as a means to shed light on the untold stories in Iranian culture. She is the
topic of the third and final chapter.


1 Maghazei, Malihe .The Role of Iranian
Female filmmakers in The Concious raising Process”, Visiting Fellow, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics
and Political Science, London, 2015

2 Chan B-Phil, Amanda . CULTURAL
and Area Studies, University of Pittsburgh, USA. 2016, web.

3 Philips.
Richard. Iranian Director Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The International
Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Web.

4 Grunes,
Dennis. Two Women (Tamineh Milani, 1999). March 12. 2007.

5 Oller.
Jacob. The Allegory of Emotional Abuse in Tamineh Milani’s Two Women. March 29. 2016. Web.

6 Grunes,
Dennis. Two Women (Tamineh Milani, 1999). March 12. 2007.

7 Oller.
Jacob. The Allegory of Emotional Abuse in Tamineh Milani’s Two Women. March 29. 2016. Web.

8 Philips.
Richard. Iranian Director Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The International
Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Web.

9 Philips. Richard. Iranian Director
Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The International Committee of the Fourth
International (ICFI). Web.

10 T.
Ramavarman. Tamineh Milani Declines to Give up Hope. The Times of India. The
Economic Times. November 26. 2011. Web.

11  Thomas. Kevin. ‘Hidden Half’ Explores the
Plight of Women in Iran. The Los Angeles Times. October 5th 2001. Web.

12 Thomas.
Kevin. ‘Hidden Half’ Explores the Plight of Women in Iran. The Los Angeles
Times. October 5th 2001. Web.

13 Philips.
Richard. Iranian Director Tamineh Milani Speaks with WSWS. The International
Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Web.

14 T.
Ramavarman. Tamineh Milani Declines to Give up Hope. The Times of India. The
Economic Times. November 26. 2011. Web.

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