Kaved Jahed’s Zhwan is a subtle but scathing social commentary on gender inequality, sexism, and regressive patriarchal mores that continue to exist in modern Iranian society. The issue of conservative men and their family’s obsession with female chastity is explored tastefully and empathetically. The film highlights how female sexuality in these societies is nothing but a means of control and subjugation, and how it is passed down from generation to generation in form of staunch moral values and traditions.
The film opens with a shot of a woman knocking the door of her to be daughter-in-law, Zhwan, on the night of her engagement. Zhwan refuses to come out until she has a final word with her fiancé, Mehdi. This sets up the theme early on, conveying the tradition of cajoling a woman to play nice, be obedient, and follow the rules. We then follow an argument that ensues between the couple, which starts innocently and then gradually devolves into a shameful and undignified request, which involves a virginity test.
Both actors do a good job of translating the subtext of the film. Afshin Khedri, who plays the fiancé is appropriately dismissive and irritable on Zhwan’s attempts at resisting his request, to the point of feeling emasculated by her audacity. Zhwan is played by Minoo Sharifpour, who portrays her with reserved strength and poise. The set design is spare and minimalistic. You feel transported to the night, which is teeming with loud and excitable relatives. The cinematography is reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami’s raw, vérité style of filmmaking.
Ultimately, Zhwan is about the loss of innocence in a stifling and oppressive culture. The film’s conclusion is somberly realistic and deliberately left open to interpretation. Social attitudes do not change overnight and sometimes grace under pressure is the greatest human triumph. Let’s hope Zhwan will continue to be a light unto herself.