An illness of her own
A review of "Crystal"
May 6, 2004
it is hardly possible to take up one's residence in the kingdom
of the ill unprejudiced by the lurid metaphors with which it has
been landscaped." -- Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, New
"Crystal" is a documentary, by Mania Akbari
and Mahmood Ayden, about a young Kurdish woman with a most unusual
illness. Ayshe Pirooz lives near a snow covered, remote village
in Kurdistan, Northwestern Iran, where everyone refers to her as, " the
sick girl". In her village the unusual nature of Ayshe's
malady gives her celebrity, if not freak, status.
We first meet Ayshe standing with her mother on their balcony.
She is young and willowy with doe-like, green eyes and the bad
complexion of a teenager. Her mother, in traditional Kurdish clothes
and scarf, has the rugged face of mountain dwellers. She looks
solid and strong, like the vestige of a time, not long ago in this
remote region, when only the very strong survived.
Inside their humble dwelling, Ayshe and her father describe her
condition. Her body produces glass-like rocks that come out or
have to be extracted from her vagina, eyes, throat, palms of her
hands and feet. Like so many war trophies, the father shows us
the different sized pieces, taking for granted that this is a story
that needs physical evidence to be believed.
Ayshe, serving tea, reveals, in a matter-of-fact manner, that
most of the crystals come out of her uterus. It is obvious that
nineteen-year old has repeated her story many times-- her illness
is uniquely hers. The doctors have given her condition a name, "Crystal." But
no one has been able to figure out its cause.
Mania Akbari asks about the more intimate details of her life. "Did
you like your husband?" The quick "no" leaves
no room for doubt. "Why did you marry him?" Mania asks
next. "My father gave me away when I was twelve," Ayshe
answers. The camera moves on the faces of her two brothers, not
much younger than twelve, as if to show how young twelve can be.
She got her period a year after going to her husband's house.
Her illness also appeared at the same time, but she was too ashamed
to divulge it to her father. When the pain became unbearable
and her husband refused to help her, she told her father, who took
her to a hospital. She never returned to her husband's home
She comes to stay with Mania in order to seek medical help in
Tehran. What makes this film work so beautifully is the relationship
Mania forges with Ayshe. The way the friendship exposes Ayshe's
vivacity provides the much-needed relief from the subject of the
illness itself. We watch as the latter becomes increasingly familiar
with the camera and the filmmaker, exposing her natural and upbeat
character. A city woman and a villager, from completely different
backgrounds, share the grammar of their female selves. Mania teaches
Ayshe how to use make-up and dress like a city girl.
It is when Mania makes her up that we first see a giggly teenager
rather than a sick villager. With a refreshing lack of self-pity,
that is the stuff of youth, Ayshe opens up to Mania. When telling
the grueling tale of her suicide attempts she has the look of an
excited child recounting a playground feat. She seems too happy
to have found a friend, to be sad.
They go through tests and hospital visits. We watch as Mania
takes out small pieces of crystal from Ayshe's eyelids with a tissue.
The screen blacks-out when they extract a rock from her uterus,
and we are left alone with the sound of her pain.
In one telling scene, she describes her condition
to a doctor, "it
started a year after my marriage -- the doctors tell me that
I should not get upset, that is what causes it. When I am happy
I don't produce so much, when I am upset the crystals increase."
we have her own reason for the malady: unhappiness, triggered
by her marriage. Those crystals that come out of her body are the
tangible offspring of a forced marriage. Not a source of guilt
or shame just the physical result of a bad marriage. A certain
rural pragmatism, the no non-sense view of those who live close
to nature, keeps Ayshe from becoming a tragic figure. Her love
for life shines through her problems endearing her to us even
When she leaves for her village we are no closer to uncovering
the enigma of her illness. Yet we have come to glimpse a soul
so full of life that her pain seems like a foreign intrusion.
the crystals growing in her body, or the husband who has been
forced on her, the pain, both physical and emotional, that
she has come
to suffer, has no place inside her.
"Crystal" will be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in
NewYork City this spring: 5 May in Tribeca Grand 3 p.m. 6
May in UA Theater V 6 p.m. 7 May in Tribeca Cinema
Theater / 9.30 p.m. For information about Tribeca film
festival go to tribecafestival.com.
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