THE FIFTH REACTION (Tahmineh Milani, 2003)

As in her earlier Do zan (Two Women, 1999), in Tahmineh Milani’s Vakonesh panjom Niki Karimi plays a woman named Fereshteh who represents socially and politically oppressed Iranian womanhood. This is a better film.
     Fereshteh has just been widowed. Her “first reaction,” then, is grief. The film opens with her at a restaurant with four sister teachers, who have taken her out in an effort to cheer her up. Fereshteh’s “second reaction,” then, is communality. Announcing that he is “the law,” her father-in-law, Sadfar, informs Fereshteh that his son’s death annuls the marriage and he will be assuming responsibility for raising his two grandsons. The possibility of such an outcome generates Fereshteh’s “third reaction”: anxiety; a feeling of helplessness. The first three reactions contribute to the generation of the fourth: hopeful action. Fereshteh and her sister teachers hatch a plan for her escape to Dubai with her children. With Sadfar in hot pursuit, the car chase is on. Sadfar, alas, catches up with Fereshteh and has her thrown into an utterly dark jail cell; but the deceased’s brother makes a pointed appeal that makes Sadfar ready to compromise; before he is able to state the “one condition” that will entitle Fereshteh to freedom and reunion with her children (which we can easily guess), the closing freeze frame discloses Fereshteh’s “fifth reaction”: despair, hopelessness, even terror. (Sadfar isn’t in the frame; the enormous shadow of his finger on the cell wall trumps the cowering Fereshteh down below, on the floor.) Even as Sadfar somewhat relents, the shot reconfirms the disadvantage that persists for Fereshteh and other Iranian women.
     I like that Sadfar isn’t made out a villain. Milani shows how reasonable he thinks he is being. Fereshteh: “He’s not such a bad person; but stubborn.”

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