Plot: Tehran, present day. A school teacher and a mother to a 5-year old daughter is preparing to attend a family wedding in northern Iran. But when her husband suddenly forbids her to go, she makes a life-changing choice that will threaten every minute of her future.
Farnoosh Samadi’s 180 DEGREE RULE carries ingredients of great Iranian films that tend to focus on personal, small moments that make big differences and perhaps change lives. Just as with Asghar Farhadi’s films, Samadi’s latest takes an intimate, seemingly trivial moment and turns it into a showcase of female oppression.
Sara, a Tehran school teacher and a mother to a 5-year-old girl, is prepping for her sister’s wedding. Excited about the occasion, she is getting ready for the trip outside the city where the wedding would be held. But just hours before the big day, tragedy strikes at her school as one of her female students attempts suicide after discovering she’s pregnant. Terrified of the consequences if ever her parents would discover the truth, she confides in Sara, pleading her not to reveal her secret. In a society that strongly condemns women for having sexual relationships outside marriage, women are the first, and only, to blame. And no matter what their defense is, no one is ready to listen.
Hours later, Sara clashes with her husband who, when seeing their daughter is showing signs of a cold, refuses to allow her to travel to attend the wedding. When he flies out of town for a short work assignment, Sara defiantly decides to attend the wedding. What starts as a simple act of independence soon turns into a nightmare that would change Sara’s life forever.
What makes 180 DEGREE RULE effective is that it never gives audiences what they want. In other hands, the film could have turned into a courtroom drama in which Sara pleads for justice, asking to be heard and treated like a man’s equal. But this is Tehran, a place where ideals and values are impossible to change particularly when it comes to women’s place in a patriarchal society that takes pride in exerting influence over women as a form of practicing what it believes to be a moral responsibility. As Sara faces physical and emotional abuse, she never revolts, fights back nor seeks revenge. Fear is what drives her far more than personal justice or even trying to defend herself, a result of being accustomed to a life so unfair that it has become escapeless. In making the film’s central character (Sarah, played by Sahar Dolatshahi) unwilling to stop playing by society’s rules, Samadi intentionally hooks us to a passive yet completely believable character that represents, sadly, the reality of millions of women. There are no happy endings nor opportunities for grandstanding moments of justice – simply because moral systems and social structures are far more rooted and much harder to change than women’s own fates.
Verdict: 180 DEGREE RULE reminds us why Iranian cinema has earned its reputation among contemporary world cinema. A raw, infuriating story that speaks for countless women whose only language is silence.
This review is from the 45th Toronto International Film Festival.