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With: Pegah Ahangarani, Majid Hajizadeh, Akram Mohammadi
Written by: Peyman Qasemkhani, Fereydoun Farhudi
Directed by: Rasul Sadrameli
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Farsi, with English subtitles
Running Time: 110
Date: 29/06/2001
IMDB

The Girl in the Sneakers (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

City 'Girl'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Four years ago, the first and only Iranian movie opened in American theaters, Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon. It took an exceptional movie such as that to break through the political and cultural barrier.

Things have changed. Now four Iranian movies have opened here in the last three months, and two of them have been nothing less than masterpieces, The Day I Became a Woman and The Circle. The other two, Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine and the new The Girl in the Sneakers have been slightly less. But, hey, you can't be perfect all the time.

Actually, The Girl in the Sneakers has much in common with The Day I Became a Woman and The Circle in that it takes women's rights in Iran head on. But the earlier two films accomplished it in such a masterful, artful way, that the stories became universal. We began to care about these women through genuine feelings rather than as political chess pieces. As directed by Rassul Sadr Ameli, The Girl in the Sneakers lacks this universal understanding, this beautiful poetry. Rather, it concentrates on telling a straightforward story in a workmanlike way.

And unlike the previous two films, The Girl in the Sneakers follows a single protagonist throughout its entire running time. Pegah Ahangarani stars as Tadai, a 15 year-old girl who sneaks away to meet a boy in the park from time to time. After a couple of weeks, she's caught, and the humiliation and punishment she receives causes her to run away from home, planning to coax her boyfriend to run away with her.

The problem is that it takes her all day and most of the night to get her boyfriend on the phone. As a result, she spends the whole day alone in the city of Tehran, which is frowned upon in Iranian society. She squanders a good deal of the time alone, going to movies and eating, but she also meets some kooky characters along the way. It's difficult to do this kind of story without seeming phony, but Ameli manages to make these supporting players seem real.

One man helps Tadai make a phone call to her boyfriend, pretending to be his teacher. He laughs about it afterward then invites her over to have lunch with him and his wife. He opens the door and suddenly expresses shock that his wife is home, whispering to Tadai to go away. We realize he was nothing but a sexual predator. Tadai calls a former teacher of hers on a pay phone looking for help, but she only receives a lecture. When she tries to check into a hotel to sleep, she's refused, so she sits in the lobby and orders ice cream and cokes from a perpetually sighing waiter. An old lady overhears another of her phone calls and offers to help, but Tadai runs from her. We never know how long any of these characters will stick around, which makes them interesting. Any other film of this format would have equally-spaced episodes with foregone conclusions (like the upcoming film Adventures of Felix).

None of these encounters has much resonance, though. In Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry, we begin to realize a very subtle, very specific pattern in the protagonists' several encounters. The characters in The Girl in the Sneakers seem only to remind us one after another that a woman's life in Iran isn't fair.

In the end, though, the movie succeeds thanks to Ahangarani's suberb performance. She's onscreen nearly the whole time, and she really has to deliver. She manages the hope, angst, fear, passion, and anger that goes with every minute of every day in a teenage girl's life. Because of her honesty and her open, emotional face, we stick with this film all the way.

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