Winstar proudly advertises this movie as "Banned in Iran" (hint: so are a lot of other movies) because it's about a subject the ruling censor board feels uncomfortable with: how women are constantly enslaved to the best interests of men and restricted in their movements and actions by their relationship to men. Rather than standing a lecturer in front of us or (may Allah spare us) on-screen statistics, Panahi places a series of different women on-screen, all with different problems that require rebellion. Because the women are all symbolic of a larger problem, Panahi wisely refrains from spending too much time with any of them and trying to develop an emotional bond between them and the viewer. He refuese to let the viewer take the easy way out (get emotionally involved, feel sad, think about one character rather than the whole of Iran).
As compensation, he offers us a portrait of Tehran never before seen. We travel through the city with a (never ostentatiously, as in "Look at me! I'm using a hand-held camera. This means I am showing the unadulterated truth, and am a better director for it) hand-held camera. The vendors, traffic, buildings, and general environment are fascinating to observe. If you're not interested in what's going on in the foreground, look in the background.
Although there are a few melodramatic, overstated scenes, it's generally a crisp drama which drives home the point effectively without being hectoring. Although you might think it's depressing, it's actually bracing to see such self-control. In an era when indulgent filmmaking demands the viewer's social conscience get involved (only to promptly revert back to normal after screening), Panahi confronts a problem which the movies can't solve, records it, and we as an audience are enriched by it.
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