Ma dar behesht is the first feature of young Iranian director Sina Ataeian Dena. Planned as the first chapter of a “trilogy of violence” and set in a contemporary suburban Teheran, it follows Hanieh, a 24 year old unmarried girl who is getting lost in a frustrating bureaucratic maze while trying to get transferred from the girls’ primary school where she teaches to a more centrally located one.
A film about Iranian women, with (almost) no relevant male figure, we are shown their everyday life and their role as the bearers of a heavy burden of obligations and prohibitions, which are reiterated in every possible occasion and are not counterweighted by a comparable number of rights. The major critic this movie raises is directed towards the strict education system: we are shown the girls’ routine at school in an almost documentary style, as they are taught since childhood about their social position.
Victim of the same system and rules she harshly imposes on her young pupils, Hanieh is both oppressed and oppressor, just as all the other women in the film. The only ones who still dare to rebel from time to time are the young school girls, who keep playing football in the courtyard despite having been told many times they may only play volleyball, who paint their nails and dance on the school bus, under the resigned gaze of their teacher, in one of the most memorable scenes of this movie.
The violence portrayed by this beautiful document of contemporary Iran is not a gratuitous nor an overt one, it is subtly hinted throughout the storyline, through the background event of the disappearance of two girls on their way to school, through a suffocating, hammering restless repetition of the social rules women are subject to.
The gorgeous debuting actress Dorna Dibaj plays the protagonist of this story in a refined way, subtly portraying the resignation and helplessness of her character. As it was the case for more than one contemporary Iranian movie, Ma dar behesht was shot without the authorities’ permission, but in spite of this obstacle, the final product is an outstanding first feature.