Strength in modesty

Iranian film series returns with The Unwanted Woman, a story of friendship and betrayal
Marila Zarei stars as Sima, the titular character.COURTESY of Iranian Film society
Marila Zarei stars as Sima, the titular character.

Through the art of film making, Iranian women are speaking out with conviction while creating an indelible panorama of the realities of modern Persian culture.

This month, Portland State’s Middle East Studies Center is bringing the work of these filmmakers to the university with the ongoing Iranian Women Film Series. This Sunday, 5th Avenue Cinema will screen Tahmineh Milani’s The Unwanted Woman (2005).

The film tells the story of Sima (Merila Zereie), a teacher married to philandering troublemaker Ahmad (Amin Hayaie). Ahmad attempts an excursion with his young mistress, Saba (Elssa Firouz Azar), claiming that she is a widow whom he must take back to her family. A suspicious Sima ends up coming along with the pair to watch their activities.

As they make their way from the city, the trio runs afoul of authorities, a severe storm and even a man guilty of murdering his wife and her presumed lover. Sima’s search for answers leads her on a path of self-discovery that helps her find her inner strength while forging an unlikely bond between her and the troubled Saba.

The film illustrates the challenges women face in a theocratic society. The protagonist encounters multiple instances of gender conflict. Early in the film, she intervenes on behalf of a young woman who is threatened by her husband on the road. In a particularly telling scene involving a crowd locked in debate in a hotel dining room, Iranian youths engage an older traditionalist about the murder of a woman accused of infidelity. The exchange speaks to the overarching debate about gender roles in Iranian society.

The question of gender roles and the proactive engagement of women in Iranian society reflect the theme of the film series. All four of the films being screened—the other three being 20 Fingers, Women Without Men and Pearls on the Ocean Floor—focus on the lives of women in Iran. In addition, three of the films are directed by Iranian women.

“The main idea about the film series is to show that, despite the fact that the western media portrays Iranian women as super submissive, they are in fact courageous and empowered women, and the series aims to reflect that through its films,” said Dr. Sedighi of the Middle East Studies Center, who brought the film series to PSU.

Sedighi is an associate professor of Persian in the university’s World Languages and Literatures Department. As the series’ organizer, she determined the films to be screened. Sedighi also secured personal appearances for previous screenings, such as Shahrnush Parsipur, author of the novel Women Without Men, for a screening of the film adaptation directed by Shirin Neshat.

The Iranian Women Film Series has been funded with the help of the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting projects designed to educate and enlighten people about the many aspects of Persian culture.

The series was made possible through the work of the PSU Middle East Studies Center, which serves as a focal point on campus for students, faculty and organizers interested in the Persian culture.

The center is currently working to build on the university’s Persian Studies program, which currently includes numerous professors in residence distributed over several departments. Sedighi works with the center to acquire funding for events serving to expose Portland State to the many facets of Persian culture, according to Elisheva Cohen, the center’s outreach coordinator.

“Dr. Sedighi also won another grant that will be covering some events in the spring, including a concert by an Iranian musician,” Cohen said. “All of this is a part of expanding and strengthening the Persian Studies program.”

Portland State’s Middle East Studies Center presents
The Unwanted Woman (2005)
5th Avenue Cinema
Sunday, Feb. 19, 3 p.m.
Free and open to the public


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