Review: "20 Fingers", best digital film,
2004 Venice Film Festival
September 20, 2004
20 Fingers a film, in seven episodes, written and
directed by Iranian actress and filmmaker, Mania Akbari made the
kind of noise at this years Venice film festival that Sex,
Lies, and Video Tape made at Cannes some years back. We witness in seven
different settings, seven different conversations between a woman
and a man (played by Mania Akbari and Bijan Daneshmand).
except one, is set in a moving vehicle taking the couple from
point A to point B mirroring the journeys, sometimes bumpy, that
take. The conversations or, in some cases, quarrels, while expressing
problems facing Iranian men and women, depict the universal struggle
between modernity and tradition, between liberalism and conservatism.
the second-class status of women in Islamic and Iranian society
it follows that the voice of tradition belongs to the
man and that of progress to the woman. For women change in this
is imperative. The man, in this movie, acts as the breaks to
the vehicle that is taking the couple on the road to growth.
the masculine and perpetually paranoid voice of traditional
morality. Forever jealous of anything that might threaten his manhood.
Several elements make this film one that will no
doubt make a great impact. To begin with, the film is powerful
because of the candid
and naked nature of the conversations. Never before has the subject
of sexual relations been so openly expressed, on the screen,
In a society that veils women it is both shocking
to see a woman speak boldly of love, lust and infidelity. The
use of different episodes is an effective device for exposing
nature of both individual psyches and joint lives in a society
that stifles freedom, difference and personal growth.
the film is impressive. The acting is natural and powerful.
The cinematography is superb. The use of long, hand-held takes
tension and documentary flavor. The viewer feels like she
is a witness to a live action, eavesdropping on a conversation.
The film begins with a close-up of Mania’s face, a white
shawl on her hair, moving up and down in seesaw fashion. The shot
lingers long enough for the movement to acquire a sexual rhythm.
We hear her mother’s voice-over telling her to stop playing
and come inside, “you are a big girl now”, she says.
The film goes on to show that big girls and boys continue to play
We find her next sitting in a jeep with Bijan, driving
up a snowy path, talking about the games they played when they
Mania talks about playing doctor with her cousin when she was little
and Bijan immediately questions her in such a way that reveals
envy and jealousy and the need to know, to control.
of candid revelations on her part and constant jealousy and need
for control on his then becomes the rhythm that informs their conversational
dance in all the episodes. This jealousy however is more complicated
than a man’s need to control his woman. While it is always
stifling it is sometimes provocative and erotic, sought by the
woman and not always controlled by the man.
The first episode ends
with a scene shot in darkness, in which the man forcibly takes
the woman’s virginity because he says he “had to be
sure.” With this unseen act, that takes place against a
backdrop of barking dogs, we are thrown, with one violent and abrupt
into the muddy waters of sexual tensions in a society that separates
men from women in almost apartheid fashion.
As she mentions earlier
in the episode Mania and her cousins were prohibited from playing
doctor from the age of nine -- that arbitrary age of adulthood
for Muslim women, which, the prophet himself conceived. Thus
separated boys and girls are thrown on either sides of the ring
a lifetime of mutual confusion. Sex becomes a battle, a point
of misunderstanding and paranoia rather than a pleasure sought
by both genders. In a society where virginity matters so much,
men are condemned to fear its absence, women its loss. Both
man and woman are victims.
In the second episode, set high above the mountains of Tehran,
Bijan and Mania talk over the creaking telecabin noise about her
dancing with a male friend at a party. Dancing between men and
women is officially prohibited in Iran. But here we have a jealousy
of a more universal kind. Bijan does not believe that dancing is
wrong. However, he does not believe in dancing provocatively with
anyone other than a boyfriend or husband.
Again what appears as
simple jealousy or need for control reveals a multi-layered nature.
Mania admits that she likes to make him jealous and that this may
have been her motive for dancing with her friend in such a manner.
Even with this admission on Mania’s part, Bijan continues
to press his point, wanting to make sure that she understands and
accepts his logic. Mania is suppressed just as she begins to open
up. The price of her honesty is censorship.
The other episodes treat different
problems and questions, regarding men and women, sex and life,
with different degrees of tension
in varying octaves. Whether she wants an abortion, or probes the
possibility of love for two men at the same time, or explains her
mother’s need to have a son, she is always confronted by
Bijan, who is trapped by a jealousy and paranoia that makes him
seem, in the end, more a victim than Mania.
In episode five she
says, “I like my limitations.” Because, she reasons,
they keep her from a life of empty sexual pursuit. Her limitations
do more, they make her see beyond social norms in a way that Bijan
can never hope to. These personal and societal constructs are imposed
on her so blatantly that seeing them and overcoming them is easy:
it is a matter of survival. For Bijan the construct s are indigenous,
he owns them, they affirm his manhood, they give him meaning and
he can therefore part with them less easily.
The fictive segment of the film ends with an abrupt
admission on Mania’s part in episode six (episode seven is a ‘behind
the scenes’ film about film segment, which, takes the male/female
dialogue to the subject of the film itself.) She tells a shocked
Bijan that she has slept with her female friend, Maryam - no doubt
a first in Iranian cinema. Bijan, disgusted and dejected, slaps
her and throws her out of their train compartment shutting the
door on her and perhaps the side of him that may have developed
into a more tolerant man.
The man and woman are once again separated
by the limitations imposed on them. The game of life is interrupted;
the door to mutual understanding is violently shut. Mania, despite
all the mistreatment she suffers or perhaps even because of it,
is freed from the small and suffocating compartment that is their
relationship while Bijan remains, shutting the doors of change
on himself. The man, in the end, is the true victim. He is a
prisoner of his own inhibitions propped and pumped up by a male-dominated
society that shares and nurtures his insecurity.
goodbye to spam!