Translated by Matthew and Ashlee Pitts.
The use cinematography and film-making have become an outlet for creative individuals to analyse, criticise and question society in real-time. In Iran, women are playing an important role in this, even after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Historically, women have had extremely limited opportunities and were noticeably absent in the film world in Iran, however, the presence of women behind and in front of the camera has steadily increased since the start of the Revolution despite policies that required women to wear hijab and to keep chastity on screen. Asal Bagheri, a cinema expert, has described the current situation of women in Iranian cinema as being part of a “politically engaged” type of cinema.
In Iranian films, women are typically casted in subordinate roles to accompany their male counterparts, a lifestyle where they are subordinate to men. Moreover, women are reduced to playing traditional roles, such as the mother, wife and housewife, whose activities are limited to managing their children’s education, appearing desirable their husband, and doing household jobs. These films convey sexist and misogynistic images of the relationship between men and women. Men are generally placed on a pedestal and represent authority whereas women are portrayed in a negative light by encompassing their beauté fatale and a dependence on men. Many films in Iran depict recurring sexist and misogynic clichés.
Over time, the obligation to wear the hijab has become increasingly significant in representing a special image of women in Iranian cinema in comparison to other countries, in particular because of the way it conveys stereotypes and makes them a part of the norms of Iranian society. Gender plays an important part in contemporary Iran, and is at the center of this analysis of the films of Ashgar Farhadi, who is considered to be a prominent screenwriter and film director in Iran and throughout the world of cinema. Farhadi is most famous for his film Fireworks Wednesday, released in 2006, which was given a positive reception and won awards in film festivals in Nantes and Chicago.
Tested by Adultery
The film is focused on an Iranian couple whose relationship is tested by adultery. The film takes place during the Iranian New Year, also known as the Festival of Fire (Chaharshanbeh Suri in Persian), which was banned by religious authorities. During the celebrations, lamps and decorations are set up in large towns and cities. This festival provides the backdrop to the dramas between a young Iranian couple, and sheds a light on three main female characters.
The first female character to appear in this film is a cleaner named Rouhi, who a poor and religious woman who comes from outside the main city and wears the chador. She does the housework on a weekly basis and comes for the traditional final cleaning before the New Year. Throughout the film, she quietly observes all goings-on as a passive spectator and she is portrayed as being content with her life. The viewer discovers parts of the plot through the eyes of Rouhi, and she plays a key role in the film despite her passive nature.
The second female character in the film is Mojdeh, who lives in the home where Rouhi goes to do housework. Mojdeh comes from a modest family background and is not particularly religious. She has short hair, does not cook, does not respect norms in society regarding the duty of women at home and does not have a typically feminine appearance. The third female character is Simin, a divorced beautician. We do not have a lot of details about Simin, but it is revealed that Mojdeh’s husband Mojtaba is having an affair with Simin.
Women under the control of men
The film depicts some of the social, economic and religious pressures faced by women in different social classes in Iran. All Iranian women face enormous pressure, and the man remains the master over his wife. However, in the case of Rouhi, the director shows an example of her disadvantaged background. When Rouhi wants to ask permission from her husband in order to trim her eyebrows, this shocks Mojdeh who asks: “do you need the approval from your husband to trim your eyebrows?” Nevertheless, Rouhi insists that asking permission for something so ordinary is completely normal in Iran.
In comparison to Rouhi, Mojdeh is from a moderate family and she does not have to ask permission from her husband. However, she is subjected to physical violence. In one scene, Mojdeh’s husband hits her, and the camera shows her crying in a taxi. In addition to violence, this scene portrays the low status of women in the patriarchal society of Iran. Mojdeh also cries in the bathroom when she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. She is helpless to do anything other than crying, and is unable to change her situation. In Iran, women are not afforded the legal right to file for divorce whereas men are able to do so fairly easily. Moreover, in one scene where the Mojdeh’s son is crying, a male friend of Mojtaba says to him: “men never cry!”. In this film, tears are the sign of weakness, and, as women are portrayed as weak, only women should cry.
In addition, Motjaba places the blame on his wife who, in his eyes, is not sufficiently feminine. Motjaba complains that he “can’t remember the last time she cooked. Ask the neighbours if they can smell food being cooked”. Cooking is the main duty of women in Iran, as well as being the sign of their feminine nature and social standing.
What is the role of women in cinema in Iran?
Women generally play an important role in Iranian cinema. They were originally caricatured as being dependent on men and, for most of the time, content to be inferior to men, whereas the characters played by men were portrayed as charismatic, confident and firm in standing up for their religious beliefs. Over time, the status of men and women changed in Iranian cinema, and now women are capable of taking the initiative in changing their situation. In the film Fireworks Wednesday, the film director attempts to alter the static position of women in society by demonstrating the plot through the eyes of women and the way they feel, which consequently allows the viewer to feel empathy towards the female characters. However, as it has already been noted, signs of masculine dominance and the masculine viewpoint of the director are shown in an apparent way in the film. Women are reduced to just a few emotions, notably anger, anxiety, irritability and crying. In short, although Asghar Farhadi intended to depict the true nature of the status of women in contemporary Iranian society, it is evident that he has not shown their true position. His interpretation of the role of women has been influenced by the masculine point of view that he has of society, and this consequently has an impact on the way he represents women in Fireworks Wednesday.
 The hijab – which means headscarf or veil in Arabic – refers to the Islamic headscarf only covering the head. It can surround the whole face or be tied more loosely to reveal some of the women’s hair.
 For women in Iran, sexual relations outside of marriage are strictly forbidden, and adultery can be punished by stoning. The control of feminine sexuality represents the guarantee of ensuring chastity. For a full explanation, see https://blogs.mediapart.fr/irani/blog/040416/iran-la-condition-feminine.
 Quoted from « Et la censure créa le cinéma des femmes iraniennes » https://www.opinion-internationale.com/2016/01/26/et-la-necessite-crea-le-cinema-des-femmes-iraniennes-entretien-avec-asal-bagheri-specialiste-du-cinema-iranien_23169.html
 The lamps and fire symbolise the hope of the arrival of light and happiness in the following year. There are many fireworks and fires in the streets.
 The chador is a type of fabric in the shape of a semi-circle that is worn in Iran. It hides both the head and the body of the women. It has to be held up at all times to avoid falling on the floor. The chador was originally worn during prayers before it became obligatory to wear it all times in public. Reza Shah banned the chador in 1936, but it was reintroduced upon the arrival to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
 This is the final cleaning before the start of the New Year, which is called Norouz and takes place on 21 March according to the Iranian calendar.
 Only men have the right to ask for divorce according to Islamic law. In Article 1133 of the Islamic civil code, it is stated that “a man can divorce his wife whenever he so chooses”. The current family law on divorce (or talaq in Arabic) supports the right of the husband to ask for a divorce at any time, while at the same time applying some restrictions. For instance, a man has to ask permission at a tribunal to grant a divorce if his wife disagrees. The role of the tribunal is to attempt to reach a mediation between the couple. If a reconciliation is not possible, the man then has the right to a divorce.