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UCL Mellon Programme: Interdisciplinary Seminar 2008-2009

Seminar: 18 February, 2009 (Chair: Dr Saeed Talajooy, more ... )

Logo and link: Iran heritage Foundation Iranian Cinema: Gender, Nation and Narration
(with the generous support of the Iran Heritage foundation, more ...)

A screening and discussion of:

The Hidden Half (English sub-titles)
(Dir. Tahmineh Milani, 2001)


During the 1980s, the hidden half of the Iranian screen used to be women, particularly in their personal and intimate relationships. Yet with the gradual increase of female presence both before and behind the camera, films about women’s problems formed a significant core within the narratives of Iranian cinema, negotiating a cinematic position for Iranian women, which was unprecedented in Iran and many other countries, western and non-western. With the relative relaxation of censor during the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, Tahmineh Milani, a major female filmmaker used people’s interest in women’s issues as a diving board to venture into the whirlpool of addressing issues related to political activism. The film which utilized and challenged the melodramatic genre of ‘a woman with a hidden past’, addressed a number of significant issues which had remained, and still remain, un-negotiated within Iran’s political and cultural discourse about the roots and results of the 1979 revolution. The film examines the fate of those women, and by extension men, whose ideals set them against the newly formed Islamic government of the early 1980s with drastic consequences. Milani’s manipulation of the visual and auditory imagery created intense nostalgic moments that reminded the Iranian spectator of the time when consumed by the euphoria of new beginnings, Iranians thought that they were only steps away from creating their utopia; a time full of hopes that, as usual, went wrong with all sides trying to impose their own version of utopia on others, when the very obsession with utopia made political groups assume they could only achieve their utopia(s) by getting rid of their opposition(s).

If one aspect of our desire for a better world is the gradual inclusion of silenced voices and accepting those whose history has remained unwritten and thus they have lost power and presence; Milani’s work is an epoch making film and will remain so in Iranian cinema. She uses the life story of a woman with a hidden past to pick up the case of an absent ghostly presence, a woman who has lost youth and is going to lose life, a woman whose face we never see because it remains hidden under the veils of official histories. Milani was arrested and charged by Iran’s Revolutionary Court of supporting antirevolutionary forces, a move that was criticized by President Mohamad Khatami who, unlike the radicals within the Islamic government was able to understand the value of this film. Rather than being a political film which sympathized with anti-revolutionaries, Milani’s film was about the loss of human life, love, youth, knowledge and constructive capacity when ideology blocks the possibility of any genuine attempt at understanding and negotiation.

Suggested Reading

Benjamin, Walter (1940): ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ (Electronic version at http://www.efn.org/~dredmond/Theses_on_History.PDF )

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba ‘Iranian Cinema: Art, Society and the State’ in the Middle East Report, at http://www.merip.org/mer/mer219/219_ziba-mir-hosseini.html

Naficy, Hamid (1999), 'Veiled Visions/Powerful Presence: Women in Post-revolutionary Iranian Cinema' in Rose Issa and Sheila Whitaker (eds), Life and Art: The New Iranian Cinema. London: National Film Theatre. 44-66


This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by UCL Mellon Admin

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