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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une femme entre les mondes

by Maurice Ulrich

A Woman Between Worlds

Translated Thursday 22 March 2007, by Helen Robertshaw

BORDERS. Exile, intolerance, airport detention centres and the condition of the working class are all captured on film by Angelina Maccarane, as she tells the story of Fariba.

Unveiled, by Angelina Maccarone. Germany, 1 h 38 min.

The film begins on an aeroplane. The captain announces that the plane has just left Iranian air space. A veiled woman gets up and goes to the toilets. She removes her veil, lights up a cigarette. She’s free. Or so she hopes.

Fariba (Jasmin Tabatabai), is fleeing her country. But this unveiling, expressed in the title of the film (Unveiled), is only the beginning of a journey, some would say a period of wandering, a story of secrecy and concealment. Because entry into Germany, the country where she touches down, proves rather complicated. Fariba tries to claim status as a political refugee but we, as the audience, know that the real reason for her exile is her love affair with a woman, revealed in a photo and a telephone conversation with the woman in question. The story of the film unfolds as follows. In order to obtain a temporary right of asylum, Fariba adopts the identity of one of her inmates at the airport detention centre, a man who is an actual political refugee, but who plans to commit suicide due to his despair at never being granted entry into the country.

Disguised as a man and obliged at all times to conceal her femininity, Fariba works in a sauerkraut factory, sells fake identity papers, has a love affair with a fellow female factory worker, before ending up right back where she started, in this depressing game of snakes and ladders. Angelina Maccarone’s film has received several awards, most notably at the Montréal gay and lesbian film festival in 2005 where it won the jury’s prize. In the same year it won the jury’s prize and the prize for best film at the Seattle lesbian and gay film festival. Whilst the film certainly discusses lesbian identity, it would be wrong to pigeonhole the film within a particular genre. Unveiled, which has also received several awards at other film festivals, explores the rather taboo subject of female homosexuality within a factory environment, which is not particularly conducive to a sensitive portrayal of love. However, the film is at the same time much broader in its thematic scope, exploring issues such as exile, immigration and intolerance.

And what’s more, the story is told via the medium of film. The manner of filming is just as important as the story itself. So right from the beginning, during the scenes in the airport detention centre where Fariba spends several days, the walls, the barbed wire fences are filmed in static, horizontal shots, whilst on the other side of the divide, where the rest of the world enjoys freedom of movement, aeroplanes are seen taking off one after another. These shots encapsulate better than words ever could the experience of waiting, the feeling of being suspended in a no-man’s land between two worlds which is the fate of those who are exiled. Such people are without rights and perhaps without any existence other than the one which the authorities decide to grant them in the form of a residence permit. And often this existence is denied to them and the refusal made to feel like a condemnation. We witness this same filmic strategy being employed throughout the film, in the scenes where the camera is in a fixed position and watches the world pass by without being able to capture it definitively. Because Fariba is unable to settle anywhere, to work and to love. And when she seems to be making a life for herself, for instance in her love for Uwe, her fellow factory worker, a young German woman who is a single mother, but watched closely by her ex-partner, happiness nonetheless escapes Fariba’s grasp once more, and is defeated by violence, repression and incomprehension.

The story of Unveiled is undoubtedly rather far-fetched. But verisimilitude has never been a prerequisite for an exploration of truth. And Unveiled is committed to the truth, both in its beautiful portrayal of the love scene between the two women, of their ride on a scooter, in a moment of freedom when suddenly they seem to be able to breathe, to experience the world around them, and in its portrayal of the men’s reaction to the attachment of the two women and the work in the sauerkraut factory. Everything in this film rings true and is profoundly touching. Unveiled is a beautiful film about exile and borders, psychological as well as geographical; it is a film of today.

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