Marrakech - "Paradise" or Kafka in contemporary Persia brought to The 15th Marrakech International Film Festival.
Marrakech – “Paradise” or Kafka in contemporary Persia brought to The 15th Marrakech International Film Festival.
The film opens on the voices of two women one asking questions about religious issues and prohibitions, the second answering them, most of the time not to the taste of the questioner. Women voices only. The screen is black. “What can be seen of a woman?” “Can her neck be revealed?” “What about her ankles?” “A woman can be given into marriage at any age if that’s her father’s will.” The tone is disclosed. It is an interview for a teaching position. The fear is that the teacher would fail to reinforce the image of the submissive, obedient and compliant woman which the school is entrusted to cultivate.
The silhouette of a dark gown walking away with firm steps travelled through the city. It avers it is that of a young and rather pretty woman. She was also traveling through red tape to make sure her application for the transfer to another school gets to its destination. Her argument is that being not married and after her father and mother both passed away she had to live with her sister who was expecting a baby very soon. She needed an appointment that wouldn’t take to get to long and tough trips walking, on busses and on cabs so crowded people sat on each other. Perhaps has she also become too allergic to the extreme poverty and deprivation she has to see on her way to and back from her job.
The school principal is a figure of absolute authority, tough hands in velvet gloves. She marshals her second up to five grade pupils whom she addresses as daughters, girls and ladies with a firm hand and the conviction that her act makes a difference. From her office on an old but loud sound system, her metallic, emotionless, never shivering or breaking voice warns the girls of men. They should never get close to them, not to trust them. Not to let them touch them, not even to speak to them. Two of their class mates had disappeared on their way back home. Kidnapped. Prayers are said so they return to their families.
With the same martial voice, and from her office and every morning, she makes them sing the national anthem, pay tribute to the leader of the revolution and recite verses of the Holly Book. And when the paint of the flags of Israel and the United States of America which decorate the playground on which they stand while performing these morning duties so religiously, and play in the interclass breaks fade, she immediately orders the situation to be corrected. The gymnastics syllabus is covered in compliance with the same militaristic protocol. She sees everything and everyone form her window. She calls to order the little girls the moment a hair trespasses their scarves.
Under the veil of the thumb size schoolgirls, lie real little imps. On the bus and every time they are not watched, they sing and whirl and twirl indulging in rather bold womanly dances. Satellite channels prove more powerful than the moralizing teachings of the school principal. The mother of a pupil caught with fingernail polish is summoned to school. She and the kid are sermoned by the principal and the teacher. Threats of severe punishments are discussed but dropped after the mother promised to look after her daughter more closely. The mother offered to authorize physical punishment but is told that had been prohibited with the revolution. She then suggested the father could do it. That, too, had been dismissed as useless pedagogy.
The young pretty teacher is wholly in black only when at school or on the official administrative assault course to get through her transfer application. That suits the discourse and the attitudes and is perhaps also very much expected. In any case, it makes more sense in administrations in which all offices are deserted upon the call for prayer. Her depression is such that she cannot or does not even want to talk to her boy friend – maybe he is her fiancé. She has to hide to smoke a cigarette. At her sister’s new apartment, she locks herself in a cupboard and bursts in sobs. She broke like a little child. Had it not been of the comforting hugs of her pregnant sister, her emotions would have given up on her.
When she meets or visits a friend, the conservative dress code is dropped. Her sympathies are definitely not with the dominant ideology.’She does not hesitate to accept an almost stranger’s invitation to his place. Some sort of artist or/and intellectual survivor or leftover of a generation crashed by the Islamic Revolution. She recovers her senses in his place and can smell again.
She reads to her boy friend – or fiancé – to whom she is back talking to the assignment of a pupil that challenged the Islamic eschatology. She wrote something to the effect that no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us how it’s like over there! Paradise is not so obvious for the little girl. Is it a success of the young pretty teacher, the failure of the whole Islamic ideological set up or the subsistence and residue of pre-revolution culture?
Nor the huge pictures of the spiritual leader of the revolution and the signs reminding everyone of the principles of the Islamic Republic nor the huge signs depicting the USA as a warmonger on the walls of the tallest buildings seem to have defeated the hold of Western culture. The values of knowledge, arts, literature and sports are universal and hard to overcome, they are at the core of resistance.
Her obstinacy ends up paying. Her application was approved and she is transferred to exactly where she wanted. One is left wondering whether she has pulled some strings or not or whether she has made promises of some kind at some stage of the assault course!