Entering the "mirror" of film
Charles Hugh Smith | Berkeley, CA United States | 06/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Mirror is a deceptively slight tale of a little girl trying to find her way home after her Mom inexplicably fails to pick her up after school. By Hollywood's (or Bollywood's) obsessively plot-driven standards, this is not enough to hang a movie on, but there is much more going on beneath this seemingly simple surface.
Part of the pleasure of non-blockbuster non-genre films is to watch the movie unfold without the expectations of a plot point at minute 20 and all the other artifices of Hollywood script doctors. Nothing wrong with genre films (romantic comedies, thrillers, mysteries, etc.) but they take us on a route we've already traveled before. Not so this film.
Did you ever become lost as a young child? This movie captures that anxiety and the confusion of partially remembered clues in an uncaring, distracted adult world. We feel the girl's worry, and fear for her amidst the traffic and the indifference of the adults. We cheer on the occasional adult who offers to lend a hand, and fall back to worry when the help leads to another blind alley.
Much of the film's charm lies in the naturalistic "acting" (or shall we say non-acting?) of the lead character, the adorable little girl, while the unadorned street scenes of Tehran give us a "real life" window into everyday life of the Iranian people: bus drivers changing shifts, an old woman complaiing that her son ignores her, several adults' half-hearted attempts to help the little girl recongize her pathway home, and the constant flow of autos which seem to ignore traffic signals. (The Iranian street police are shown in a positive light; while most of the adults seem indifferent to the child's plight, the policeman does try to help the girl.)
Perhaps the girl's unsettled, disjointed journey home is a metaphor for the entire Iranian experience. Given the cultural constraints (many Iranian films focus on children, no doubt partly as a mechanism for bypassing censorship), what better way to illustrate the journey of the Iranian people from the repression of the Shah's reign through the tumult of the Revolution to the discord and disappointment of the present than a child's uncertain, half-remembered search for the way home? Why call a film "The Mirror" unless it mirrors something larger than a little girl's heartstring-tugging journey home?
This interpretation is reinforced by the radical break which occurs halfway through the film. I won't spoil the movie by describing this surprise in detail, but the pulling aside of the veil between reality and film has a long history--usually in comedy. Bob Hope's asides to the viewer in his 40s-era comedies no doubt inspired Woody Allen's similar aside in Annie Hall (while waiting in line to see a movie, he turns to "us" and excoriates a blowhard intellectual standing behind him), and Mel Brook literally broke down the wall between movie and "reality" in Blazing Saddles, when his film crew burst through a soundstage wall into a Busby-Berkeley-type musical being filmed next door.
The break in The Mirror is more disturbing, for it suggests the artifice of film as a metaphor for an Iran which has lost its way cannot be maintained, that real emotion cannot be constrained by the process of filmmaking. The "mirror" of the title is not only a mirror held up to Iranian society, but to the viewer of the film. Once the suspension of belief which is integral to movies has been torn aside, we enter an entirely new movie, one which challenges our understanding both of film as a medium and of Iranian culture.
This film is an experience you won't easily forget.
Interesting, worth seeing
Sarah M. Ingram | 09/26/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's not hilarious, exactly. I'm guessing the blunt political critique is about the status of women in Iran, because (overheard) women and men were constantly talking about the issue. In the middle of it all was a very smart, blunt girl trying to make her way home while the adults around her either callously ignored her (in the 1st movie) or ineptly gathered around to help (in the 2nd). It was really 2 movies in one, and in each one a major figure was the missing mother who wasn't guiding the girl home."
One girl's rebellion becomes a masterpiece in film.
G. Merritt | Boulder, CO | 01/31/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
""If you can show me the way I can go by myself."
Iranian New Wave films are definitely not receiving the attention they deserve these days. After winning a Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his first feature film, The White Balloon, acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi released his second film in 1997, The Mirror ("Ayneh"). His most notable film to date has been The Circle (2000), which criticizes the treatment of women under Iran's Islamist regime. Panahi's neorealist style in The Mirror reminds me of the Italian classic Bicycle Thieves. In a world where films are made with millions of dollars, Panahi's low-budget film tells the unsentimental story of a little girl who simply wants to get home from school, and the end result is a humanitarian masterpiece without any overt political or social messages.
I experienced The Mirror for the first time last night. It tells the story of a second-grade girl (Mina Mohammad Khani), who leaves school one day only to discover her mother isn't waiting for her, and her teachers don't care. After waiting for awhile, she decides to travel home by herself, though she doesn't know her address and remembers only a few visual details about the route her mother takes everyday. She becomes hopelessly lost. Then, forty minutes into the 95-minute film, the child actress playing the girl abruptly decides she does not want to be in the film, and needs to go home immediately. Looking straight into the camera, Mina announces, "I don't want to play this part anymore." The film takes an unexpected detour into chaos as the filmmakers decide to turn their project into a quasi-documentary about a young girl struggling to find her way home in modern Tehran. Mina becomes "the director" of the project, and her rebellion is what makes this film a masterpiece. Mina Mohammad Khani deserves a standing ovation for her performance. Highly recommended.