Reel Affirmations 2008
Review by Yusef Najafi
Rating: (3 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/18/2008, 11:00 AM
Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
Farsi with English subtitles
FILMED IN IRAN, The Birthday documents a young man’s transition into womanhood in a country where women are generally oppressed. And while Iran has gained notoriety for offering gender-reassignment surgery since the Quran makes no mention of it being forbidden, The Birthday sheds light on the great depth of uncertainty that accompanies the procedure in the country. Directors Negin Kianfar and Daisy Mohr illustrate that uncertainty by showing Mahtab speak to her doctor weeks before the surgery. He warns her to be prepared for the worst.
For non-Iranian viewers, The Birthday offers a foreign perspective on how transgender people are received in a foreign country. Kianfar and Mohr film Mahtab walking around town, buying fake nails, spending time with her supportive boyfriend, Mohsen, and interacting with her parents. The documentary also features a transgender man, Afshin, and his transgender wife, Sayeh, who have not had gender-reassignment surgery, but live together as a couple of the opposite sex.
The film paints Iran’s general public as having a quiet response to the transgender community — no one in the film demonstrates hostility toward the characters for being transgender. That’s not to say Kianfar and Mohr imply an easy life for Mahtab and other transgender people living in Iran. In one of The Birthday‘s more powerful scenes, Mahtab sits alone in her bedroom after having a peaceful debate with her father about why he would prefer Mahtab remain Mustafa, his son. She combs the blonde hair of a mini-Cabbage Patch Kid with her fingers as she jokes that the doll is her daughter. The laughter immediately turns into tears as she shares her pain and questions whether her family would have been better off had she not been born.
After Mahtab’s surgery, The Birthday wraps up quickly. Too quickly. It would have been more rewarding if Kianfar and Mohr had devoted a few more minutes to Mahtab post-surgery.
Still, you’ll find yourself immediately invested in the characters, the culture and what Iran looks like in the 21st century, as The Birthday offers a unique perspective into a population that’s still somewhat uncharted.