Review of “Unveiled”


Mid-flight from Tehran, Fariba (Jasmine Tabatabai) carefully un-wraps her hijab
(veil), hangs it on a lavatory hook for good, and smokes a much-needed cigarette.
Her long dark hair unfurled, Fariba’s striking-but-pouty face conveys a
woman for whom low expectations have become uncomfortably normal.

Landing in Germany, Fariba offers an anxious young fellow Iranian hiding out
in the airport bathroom near the gates a necessary cigarette too. Strangers,
both are attempting to flee the country that persecutes them for differing reasons—Siamak
for his politics, Fariba for her lesbianism—and both are quickly caught
by German immigration authorities. Placed in a crowded human holding tank, they
await deliberation as to their respective fates.

Finding out that his brother has been killed in his place and mortally afraid
of being deported, Siamak swallows liquid drano before learning that his application
for refugee status has actually been approved. Fatima’s application for
asylum, on the other hand, is rejected and she’s soon to be flown back
to Iran, but Siamak’s sad suicide presents a distinct possibility for
her freedom.

Smuggling her friend’s body out in a suitcase, cutting off her hair,
and adding painted stubble on with a toothbrush, she fairly convincingly assumes
his identity, and starts life over in a refugee camp in a rural area of Germany
as a man.

What follows, as Fariba-as-Siamak illegally procures a job in a local sauerkraut
factory and saves money towards a forged passport, feels threateningly similar
to Boys Don’t Cry in its plot trajectory. Fariba’s female identity
is always at risk of being discovered by the guy she shares a room with, or
by the male factory workers who tease their small-framed, foreign coworker,
calling him Ayatollah and berating him for not washing like the others in the
community showers.

Compounding Fariba’s problems smelling okay and fitting in is the fact
that a local woman, Anne (Anneke Kim Sarnau)–a single mom who works near her
on the factory floor–develops a fast and hard crush on the new “guy”
in town. Anne’s blond locks, pensive mouth and warm, lived-in eyes remind
one slightly of Frances McDormand’s character in Laurel Canyon. We are
unsure throughout if Anne can see through Fariba’s disguise; it seems
that she so deeply looks, when she looks at ”Siamak”.

Another worker, jockeying for Anne’s affection, sees Siamak as a weak
competitor, and is constantly putting him to tests of his manhood, like bringing
Siamak to a big-city strip club and paying for him to be pleasured by a sex
worker—an encounter that goes embarrassingly wrong. More complicatedly,
Fariba realizes that she’s also falling for Anne, and must struggle with
maintaining her male identity in order to keep her life in Germany and being
honest with the one she loves—facing, she believes, sure rejection.

The bigger metaphor of unveiling happens, though, when Anne delicately unwraps
Fariba’s breast binding, a gesture that lovingly expresses her appreciation
for Fariba beyond the performance of gender.

Unveiled, like other international films with LGBT content recently distributed
or upcoming from Wolfe—most notably Round Trip, an Israeli romantic drama,
and Gypo (the first Dogma 95 film from a British, not to mention lesbian, director)—intelligently
portrays its main character as struggling to express her homosexuality within
a specific, conflicted predicament as well as a larger cultural, and multicultural,
conundrum. Violence or betrayal seem poised to breakout at any moment.

Angelina Maccorone’s (Everything Will be Fine) second feature, in German
and Farsi with English subtitles, was honored by Los Angeles’ Outfest
Film Festival earlier this summer when it screened in its International Centerpiece
spot. Standing out with its understated, quietly compelling performances and
its evocative cinematography despite mostly depressing, confined settings—the
airport “purgatory,” the cramped, shared living space, the cabbage-filled
factory, the tiny airplane lavatory—Unveiled is one of few films that
openly address the difficulties of expressing gay identity within parts of the
Middle East. Even fewer feature films have been made specifically about the
struggles of Muslim lesbians to be understood within their cultures.

Unveiled not only concerns itself with this highly political and controversial
issue, it explores the discrimination immigrants face in new countries, having
crossed national boundaries, as well as the dangers and difficulties faced crossing
the sometimes more rigid gender borders. This film takes on a lot of tough,
worldly material within the close examination allowed by an intimate tale of
one character’s battle to find a place to call home.

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