In The Mirror Of ‘The Mirror’

March 17, 2012 at 9:15 AMMar (Cinema, Musings)

[Last evening- 16 March 2012- I had the opportunity of watching Jafar Panahi’s film The Mirror at the weekly screening of Manipal Film Study Centre, Manipal. Here I string in words the image of the film as reflected in my mind.]

Mina playing as Bahareh is a school going girl studying in first grade. The film begins on an evening when she is seen outside her school waiting for her mother to come and pick her up. Her mother doesn’t turn up and she decides to find her way. She takes the help of strangers first to cross the road then to reach the busstand on a scooter and then reach a terminus which is not the terminus where she has to go. We see that Bahareh ventually gets lost while attempting to find her way home.

While she is still struggling to find her way out, saddened by the fact that she is lost there is an instruction from behind the camera asking Mina, the real life character, not to look into the camera. That is when the film takes an interesting turn by breaking the fourth wall and we see Mina removing the cast on her left hand, removing her jacket and scarf and declaring- I don’t want to act anymore, before she gets down from the bus in which they are shooting the film on a lost child i.e. Bahreh.

The film crew tries convincing her to get back into the role and continue acting. But Mina refuses and decides to go back home by herself. The film crew then decides to follow Mina and the film which till then was of the neo-realist kind takes the cinema verite style for itself. Mina now taking directions from strangers but refusing to be assisted by strangers finds her way home, having no clue that she is being followed and filmed by the film crew.

Journey- is a recurring motif in most of the Iranian films. Be it Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is My Friend’s House, Golam Reza Ramzani’s The Cart, Majid Majidi’s Father, Sameera Makhmalbaf’s Blackboard or few others where the film unfolds itself in a journey of one of its characters. While the other films I mentioned- because I am familiar with them- we see that through the journey of one of its characters the film, in parallel, narrates the story of the journey of a relationship showing how it eveolves, giving a glimpse of Iran. But The Mirror through the journey of Mina reveals the journey of the women of Iran and how the women of Iran have evolved.

While the film is being shot Mina, as Bahareh, gets into a bus hoping to reach her home. In the bus she there is an intersection of three stories with that of Bahareh. One is of the old lady who speaks of her story of being subjected to patriarchy. There is another story of a young lady who is sitting between a discussion about a divorced lady, who silently looks at a young man in the bus with the clear cut separation of ladies and gents compartment in the bus. Then there is a young girl, almost the same age of Bahareh whose palm is being read by an astrologer who predicts that the girl will do well and will be “no less to a son.” Here the film captures the past present and the future of Iranian women.

While the old lady speaks of an oppressive past leaving her with no option but to take refuge in solitary walks in the garden and rest on the bench. The young girl dares to look at the man in the bus and exchange words through eyes with him. The middle aged ladies in the bus “speak” of the divorce and how wrong it is. Later when we see Mina, not as Bahareh, travelling in a cab is sitting through a conversation between some men and women, where women argue with the men demanding for equality as a right. Here we see the way in which Iranian women have evolved. The when we see Mina refusing to act and finding her way home without any assistance we see what the next generation of Iranian women have evolved into.

The strength of the Iranian women first gets expressed, in the film, with Mina refusing to work in the film because she is offended by something. She refuses and stands her ground even while the entire crew attempts to convince her. This strength to refuse and to stand her ground is the new strength of the new generation of the Iranian film.

When Mina refuses to act as Bahareh she throws away the cast on her left arm thus immediately turning from a fractured self to a un-fractured self. While she is taking the assistance of strangers as Bahareh she, as Mina, is not asking for any kind of assistance though she is asking for directions. From a lost child she has emerged as a person who can find her way. The Director of the film doesn’t show her as a complete independent individual here. (Probably because interdependence is the nature of life) She asks for direction and at times and also takes help to cross the road at times. But she essentially has the freedom to refuse certain helps offered to her on the way by lot many strangers. She decides for herself as to when she takes help with direction and from whom in order to find her way. This power of deciding for oneself is one of the major differences between Bahareh and Mina because Mina is made to take help from many and even when she gets off from the bus she is dragged back to the bus by the bus employee.

Interestingly it is at this point that Mina refuses to act. Though we do not know what offended her in the film shooting, we can come to believe that what offended her was the rather weak nature of Bahareh who is “made to wear a scarf” and “made to cry always,” as she herself tells the old lady while finding her way back home, as Mina, after refusing to be Bahareh. She takes her call and refuses to be someone who is being scripted by someone. That is where the film begins to be scripted by Mina and not Jafar Panahi for he is nothing but a follower of Mina after she refuses to be his character and decides to be herself. This strength to change the course of the story is the new strength of the emerging empowered women. Mina turns the film from its realism to cinema verite thus travelling from realism to real.

With this juxtaposition of realism with cinema verite the film speaks of its title as the mirror of real as art and art as real. But at a deeper level the film becomes a mirror of the past in a creative manner where the image gets reversed- the right becoming the left and the left becoming the right. So we see a reverse image of the old lady in Mina and also of Bahareh in Mina, from a dependent silent individual to a vocal and strong independent individual, from a fractured self to an un-fractured self, from a lost individual to an individual who successfully finds her way, from a helpless solitary walk in the park to a confident walk cutting through the man’s world to find her way.

The Mirror reflects not just the society which it depicts but dives into its own story and reflects the past in the present and future and points at the reverse image formed in the mirror, in the reflection. The Mirror documents and reflects not just its times but also the changing times and the evolving position and narrative of women in Iran.

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5 Comments

  1. chetana Teerthahalli said,

    Thanks for the write up Sahil.

  2. malathi S said,

    Dear Samvartha!!
    when me and Niha watched this movie we were a bit confused…..now i am not , thanks to the write up…Niha will read this after her exams…
    thanks da!!
    malathi S

  3. Ekhrajiha « The Persian Kitty said,

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  4. Offside « The Persian Kitty said,

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  5. Offside | The Persian Kitchen said,

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