Only 'Half' Bad - "The Hidden Half" Review

By Jeffrey M. Anderson Combustible Celluloid

Sometimes a filmmaker will really go to the mat to defend his or her values. But how often will a filmmaker actually risk her life to make a film?

That's the case with the new Iranian film "The Hidden Half," opening today at the Rafael Film Center. Director Tahmineh Milani ("Two Women") was arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Court Aug. 26, for her support of "counter-revolutionary grouplets" within the film.

Milani was eventually released when the Ministry of Culture finally approved her film, but she still faces a trial and possible execution. In her defense, Ray Privett of Facets Home Video spearheaded a "declaration of solidarity" signed by several world filmmakers, including Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Phillip Kaufman, Spike Lee, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn and Martin Scorsese, that was sent to various Iranian leaders.

Unfortunately, this real-life story eclipses the onscreen one. As often happens, the censors have drawn more attention to the art object than it would have gained on its own. "The Hidden Half" turns out to be, quite simply, not bad.

After her judge husband Khosro (Mohammad Nikbin) gets called away to defend a female political prisoner, our heroine, Fereshteh (Niki Karimi), flashes back to her revolutionary days of the early '80s (a strange time for U.S. viewers who remember when Iran was a dirty word).

It's clear when we meet the young Fereshteh that she probably joined her radical political group as a wild youth yearning for a way to express herself. But she's just as interested in meeting guys as she is in distributing flyers.

And so she meets a handsome, gray-haired poet and intellectual (Atilla Pesyani) who is amused by the naive girl's passions. She falls in love with him but finds out the hard way that he's already married and -- even worse -- that she looks quite a lot like his first love from long ago.

In any case, it's clear that director Milani is more concerned with the emotion of the story than with its politics, which is as it should be. But the emotion often aims too high and resonates too loudly and too forced, like a 1950s Rock Hudson melodrama. For the record, I have not seen any of Milani's other films, and I have no idea what her normal style might be like. Nevertheless, I found myself grimacing during these portions of "The Hidden Half."

Still, I can't help admiring Milani's passion, both onscreen and off. I imagine that part of what set everyone off in the first place was not the film's politics, but its portrayal of a strong, independent Iranian woman who's not subservient to any man. Kudos to her.

Originally Published January 18, 2002



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