Two Women tells the story of two school friends, intelligent and beautiful Fereshteh from a modest background and the more privileged Roya. (Their names, respectively, mean ‘angel’ and ‘dream’ in Farsi.) Fereshteh’s student life in Tehran becomes a nightmare when a demented stalker carrying a knife and a vial of acid begins to harass her. Following the Islamist Revolution, when universities are closed for three years, Roya marries a man of her choice and becomes a successful career woman. Fereshteh returns to her small town and marries an older man of means chosen for her by her family After the marriage, Fereshteh’s husband does not keep his promise to allow her to continue her studies, forbids her to read books, locks the telephone and accuses her of lacking maternal instincts. As her intellectual inferior, he mocks her intelligence and dismisses her desire to study and work outside the home as mere cravings for returning to her ‘questionable’ living in the big city. When Fereshteh seeks a divorce, the judge asks whether her husband beats her or neglects his duties. The fact that he ‘humiliates’ her is not a good reason. Women’s right to divorce was restored in late 1983, but mental cruelty does not count as a reason for divorce.
The film’s symmetrical structure works on oppositional binarist constructions such as a happily married career woman of average talents versus a socio—economically victimized pretty and intelligent woman emancipation versus tradition; victim versus perpetrator and female innocence versus male violence. ‘Fereshteh and Roya are the same woman,’ Milani (filmmaker) explained. ‘I wanted to show a woman’s potential and her reality.’ The systematic disintegration of a woman with enormous potential by established conventional threes is very significant. When Fereshteh is finally free of her chains, she cries: I feel like a free bird without any wings.’
Fereshteh’s ferocious polemics with her father, with the judge at the family court and with her tyrannical husband certainly heighten the dramatic structure and serve as a vehicle for delivering Milani’s message. However, the probability of such confrontations is somewhat doubtful. In most patriarchal societies, women are not even allowed to speak in the presence of male authority. Milani defends her position, claiming that Fereshteh is a rebellious character even within her restricted environment. She does not win but she still carries the fight. Iranian women are strong according to Milani. The results of the University entrance examinations are the proof. Fifty—two percent of those who pass are women. The sad reality is that, after graduation, the husband says, ‘I don’t need your money’, and that is it.
All characters in the film are typical characters, Milani asserts. They represent the present atmosphere in her country, but the stalker, specifically, represents bad education. His actions stand as a symbol for living in an atmosphere that trains him to behave in that manner. The violator is also the victim. More than sexual repression, which exists in Iranian society, she explains, his is a problem of identity in a society that does not respect individual identity.
The clear message of the film is that traditional values concerning what makes an ideal woman obstruct the development of a woman’s potential abilities, while modern ways of living, such as receiving education and working as a professional, aid her material and spiritual growth. This is perhaps the first time that the oppression of women by men in authority — husbands, fathers or judges — has been so starkly revealed in Iranian cinema. While Milani gained a large number of enemies of the opposite sex, the impact of the film was so strong as to radicalize even ‘docile women’, as she told me.
Milane had to wait eight years before the script for Two Women could be approved. Produced during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, it drew over three million viewers in Iran despite the fact that any advertisement of the film on television was banned.
Year – 1998, Genre – Drama, Country – Iran, Language – Persian, Producer(s) – N/A, Director – Tahmineh Milani