News & Views
D-i-v-o-r-c-e, in I-r-a-n
By John Anderson.
DIVORCE IRANIAN STYLE. (U) (three stars)
Married women manhandled by Tehran's legal system get their day on the screen. Nakedly honest and illuminating glimpse at our emerging ally's lopsided legal system. Directed by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini. In Farsi with English subtitles. At Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St., Manhattan.
ROILING ACROSS the screen like a medieval "Jerry Springer Show," the nonfiction "Divorce Iranian Style" is easy to digest, once you grasp its most fundamental concept: Women under the kind of Islamic law practiced in Iran have no rights. After that, everything makes perfect sense.
For instance: A woman who already has given up almost everything to get her divorce from an abusive husband - including her elder daughter - is ordered to relinquish her younger child, too, because she's remarried. A 16-year-old petitioner, married off by her parents at 14, who shocks everyone when she insists on actually collecting the marriage "gift" her 37-year-old husband promised her. A better-than-middle-aged woman, whose husband has taken a second wife, being told by the judge that she must make herself "more attractive" in order to coax him back to the marriage. And the school-aged daughter of a court employee, who can do such a frighteningly accurate impersonation of the Islamic divorce judge that it makes your skin scrawl even while you're howling.
Filmmakers Kim Longinotto and her London-based Iranian ally, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, working predominantly within the one judge's claustrophobic Islamic courtroom, practice a kind of guerrilla-advocacy cinema (at one point, they actually have to testify themselves about a particularly nasty scene outside the courtroom). It's no question where their sentiments lie, but they needn't do much to make their case against the barbaric legal legacy of the Khomeini era (the late Ayatollah is glimpsed in several not-so-incongruous cameos).
As rigged as the court system may be against Iranian divorcees, the emotional punch of its stories are equally biased toward them: The women have to be so tenacious and resolute about even daring to bring their cases up within a system so oblivious to the concept of westernized justice that they assume heroic stature just by being there. The men? Almost everyone that Longinotto and Mir-Husseini portray complains about his "prestige" or "honor" being damaged by divorce, while trying to weasel out of some kind of support payment. Of course, this is a westernized interpretation. The presumption of "Divorce Iranian Style" (whose title is a coyly satiric pun on the '60s films starring either Marcello Mastroianni or Dick Van Dyke is that there is an objective reality to matrimonial legal justice, an idea Iran would seem to view with some degree of skepticism.
Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form
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