Unveiled brought to mind two of the most powerful
films I've ever seen; Boys
Don't Cry and Yentl. In all of
these films a woman dressed as a man for different reasons is displaced from her home and persecuted
for following her heart, both by the culture she is escaping,
and eventually by the culture she escapes to. Fremde Haut is political,
provocative and ultimately tragic.
Fremde Haut, as the press release informs us,
literally means "In Orbit", which is the UN term for
displaced persons and refugees who travel the world looking for
a country to accept them. To return to their country of origin
would be to destroy everything they are (and in many cases could
get them killed), so they search for a place of acceptance and
hope in a world that pays lip service to human rights, but generally
turns its back on the reality of the refugee problem.
Fariba Tabrizi (Jasmin Tabatabai) is an Iranian woman who has
fled her homeland because she was not only caught having an affair
with another woman, she then also refused to recant her lesbianism.
To return to Iran is to face a death sentence, so she travels
to Germany, hoping for a new chance in a new country. When asked
by the German authorities why she is seeking asylum, she is ashamed
to admit the real reason, so she lies and claims only that she
is a political refugee. The Germans catch her in the lie, and
by the time she admits the truth they have decided not to trust
her and to deport her back to Iran.
During her time in the processing centre (a drab, horrible place
that still seems like a palace compared to the conditions refugees
suffer under in similar Australian centres) she meets and befriends
a student named Siamak. Siamak's brother was taken instead of
him, and he fears the shame almost as much as he fears being deported
back to face a similar fate. He downs a bottle of liquid Drano
and begs Fariba to write to his parents from Germany to tell them
he is fine. Fariba seizes her opportunity; she cuts off her hair,
puts on Siamak's glasses and presents herself to the refugee board
as Siamak to secure a temporary visa.
Once out in German society (though still constrained and unable
to take any kind of work legally) Fariba/Siamak gets a job at
a Saurkraut factory to earn enough money to pay for an illegal
passport, which she sees as her ticket to freedom. There she meets
Anne, a lonely single mother, who she becomes close to. In the
process, Siamak manages to seemingly piss off every male she meets,
especially her co-worker Uwe who has loved Anne for a long time.
As with Lana and Brandon in
Boys Don't Cry, one of the most fascinating things
about Unveiled is trying to figure out the exact
moment that Anne realises that Siamak is a woman. In an attempt
to humiliate her and drive a wedge between her and Anne, Uwe pays
for Siamak to have an hour with a prostitute, who figures out
Siamak's real gender almost immediately. Personally I think the
penny drops for Anne while they are in the back seat of Uwe's
car and Anne is playing lovingly with Siamak's hands, comparing
their softness with her own. Her eyes seem to widen for a second,
as if everything suddenly becomes clear to her.
Yet, regardless of what Anne thinks she knows, Siamak must still
admit everything to the woman she loves before their love can
be consummated. Everything becomes urgent when the German authorities
revoke Siamak's temporary visa because his student group is no
longer being persecuted in Iran. Facing the same situation all
over again, of losing the woman she loves and being chased from
her home, Siamak becomes desperate and determined to fight.
While I was both intrigued and horrified up until this point,
it was during the final third that I truly began to love the film.
With her back against the wall and everything to lose, Fariba's
real intelligence, passion and instincts begin to shine through.
Instead of a haunted, shy man we suddenly see the woman Fariba
could be if she were free and happy to love as she chooses. Anne
was intrigued by Siamak, but after she learns the whole truth
and sees her lover for who she really is she falls deeply in love
with Fariba. Their shared intimacy becomes intense, their sex
Not to sound like a party-pooper, but there are some hiccups
with the film. I realise it is a mistake to take Fariba's male
costume too literally. As in Yentl, the metaphor
of the male costume is that this is just one way of disguising
one's true self. However, to write to Siamak's parents as their
son seems like overkill, and quite honestly weirded me out. Besides
the wish of some dying guy she barely knew, there seems to be
no reason why Fariba would carry on her disguise to such lengths.
Also, the boorish, misanthropic, anti-islamic behaviour of Uwe
and the other male factory workers is pushed to a disturbing degree.
Sure, we are supposed to see what happens when men feel their
territory is threatened, but there are other ways to show that
than simply having the male characters to be all-wanker, all the
So when the inevitable happens and the men discover Fariba's
true identity, the reaction seems not that much more terrible
than the way she has been treated all along. The horror is undermined
right at the critical point in the film when the tragedy should
be unfolding. Besides, one-dimensional bad guys always fail to
get their point across. It was difficult for me to hate them or
pity them as characters. I just wanted not to see them.
Much of the emotion of the film felt contrived (in the first
half of the film I found I pitied Fariba more for her situation
than because I liked the character), and most of the lessons learned
were conveyed through speeches and dialogue where subtlety was
never the main consideration. Still, once the film emerged from
its own message long enough to really explore the characters,
it became thoroughly compelling.
Fariba's bravery and audacity is the thing that shines through
for me. Despite the ending, I can imagine she fought on, against
uncaring authorities and the threat of death sentences, to live
as she chooses, rather than accept any restrictions on the life
she was born to live. It might be wishful thinking, but the alternative
is too depressing to contemplate.
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