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Reviewed by:
  • The Glass House
  • Thomas Prasch
The Glass House (2008). Directed by Hamid Rahmanian. Distributed by Fictionville Studios, in association with the Sundance Channel 92 minutes; Farsi, with English subtitles, and English

“I was quiet, but now I’m going to shout,” a young rapper sings into a studio microphone at the conclusion of The Glass House, defiantly continuing: “all that hardship made me stand firm/ Stand firm on my feet and carry on.” What makes the angry song interesting and compelling is that the rapper is Nazila, a nineteen-year-old Iranian girl, whose work, a subtitle note informs us, cannot be publicly performed or sold in her native land. Nazila’s story is one of a half dozen similarly marginal Iranian women selected by the filmmakers from among those cared for and cultivated by Omid e Mehr, a Tehran day center.

The basic territory is succinctly summarized in a series of opening title cards: “In 2004, Iranian expatriate Marjaneh Halati set up a day center in Tehran for girls, ages 15–25, living in the margins of society.” The center offers “counseling, therapy, and vocational assistance with no government funding or interference,” serving 35 girls at a time, provided for over the course of eighteen-month terms at the center. The film itself is simply constructed: the camera follows Halati on two trips to the center, half a year apart, showing her enfolded in the grateful hugs of those her philanthropy serves and providing brief illustrations of the classroom work provided for the girls. In the course of these tours, several of the young women, identified by titles providing first name and age, are selected for more detailed background sketches: interviews, visits to their homes and workplaces (if they have work), tours with them through the hard streets of the Iranian capital.

The women face a range of problems, most rooted in poverty and the deep disadvantages women face in Iran’s extremely patriarchal society. Most deeply troubled, perhaps, is Sussan, 20, who has suffered beatings from her brothers and father, and now faces them from her temporary husband (a brief title explains the institution of sigheh, or temporary marriage, which she employed in a desperate attempt to escape the tyranny of her home); by the film’s end, she will use another temporary arrangement to escape again. The center’s doctor is uncertain whether the recent beatings or earlier ones have left her with brain damage and a stutter. Her brother, a drug addict, seen in the film in a comatose sleep in the sparsely furnished home, sexually abused her, and Sussan worries that he has his eyes on her younger sister Nargess next. But the other women are scarcely better off. Samira, for example, is a drug addict at 14, introduced to crystal meth by her addict mother and found on the street unconscious from an overdose at the start of her placement. Mitra has struggled against family violence and abandonment; “I’ve been on my own since I was nine,” she explains. Nazila has resorted to getting arrested to provide herself a home, and had other run-ins with authorities; her younger sister Nooshin seems to be following in her footsteps. [End Page 72]

The portraits of these young women in desperate straits throws a revealing light on the impoverished margins of Iranian society, providing truly remarkable insight on the underbelly of what is, for Westerners at least, a largely closed society, its flaws seldom so exposed. The treatment of the women is broadly nonjudgmental, although implicitly sympathetic (especially evident in the time spent with the young rapper). Meanwhile, almost as fascinating as the women’s stories is what we see in the background: the living, vital city of Tehran, its markets and street sweepers, its buses and shrines, its crowded streets. It is a vision of the Iranian capital that we seldom see.

The camera’s neutrally documentary gaze leaves a range of questions unanswered. Little broader context is provided for these isolated tales; beyond the experience of these women, we learn little, for example, about Iran’s drug subculture. We have little sense of the...


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pp. 72-73
Launched on MUSE
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