Review: Unveiled – Fremd Haut (2005)

Directed by: Angelina Maccarone | 97 minutes | drama | Actors: Jasmin Tabatabai, Navíd Akhavan, Jens Münchow, Anneke Kim Sarnau, Hinnerk Schönemann, Nina Vorbrodt, Bernd Tauber, Majid Farahat, Georg Friedrich, Atischeh Hannah Braun, Mikail Dersim Sefer, Haranet Minlik, Homa Tehrani, Frank Frede, Barbara Falter, Ruth Wohlschlegel, Yevgeni Sitokhin

The image will be on the retina of many; two young men publicly hanged in Iran. They were convicted of their homosexuality. For more than a year, Mahmoud Asqari (16) and Ayaz Marhoni (18) were held in prison, where they were already punished with 226 lashes. In July 2005, the two had to pay for the death penalty. In fundamentalist Iran people still do not accept gays and so many men and women live a double life there. Behind closed doors they can be who they are, but in public they are required to be in line. Many gays cannot cope with this suppression of their true identity and flee to Europe or North America. Filmmaker Angelina Maccarone made the penetrating film ‘Unveiled’ on this theme.

Thirty-year-old translator Fariba Tarizi (Jasmin Tabatabai) has fled her native Iran after it was discovered that she was dating a married woman. With false papers, she boarded a plane to Germany, where she hopes to start a new life. However, as soon as she gets off the plane, the immigration service is already waiting for her. Awaiting her fate, she ends up in a reception center for illegal immigrants, in a no man’s land near the airport. There she is introduced to Siamak (Navid Akhavan), a young political activist who is dying to be sent back. He can no longer handle the tension and commits suicide. Fariba, who has just been told that she must return to Iran, decides to assume his identity and starts a new life as a man. She gets a temporary residence permit and even finds work in a sauerkraut factory. There she encounters various prejudices and has to go all out to hide her true identity. However, she also meets Anne (Anneke Kim Sarnau), for whom she develops warm feelings.

Director Angelina Maccarone made a smashing debut at international film festivals in 1997 with ‘Everything Will Be Fine’. Since then, the German has been working with Judith Kaufmann on the script for ‘Unveiled’, which was given the title ‘Frekra Haut’ in his own country. Together with lead actress Jasmin Tabatabai, an Iranian-born and successful singer and actress in Germany, she dotted the i’s in the script and made sure that Iranian culture was brought to the fore in the most realistic way possible. The result is an impressive portrait of a woman who desperately suppresses her natural desires for fear of her own safety. ‘Unveiled’ is often reminiscent of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, the film that gave Hilary Swank her first Oscar. Yet there are clear differences. Where ‘Unveiled’ is completely fictional despite its realistic character, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ was based on a true story. Moreover, the reasons of the protagonists for posing as men are quite diverse. Brandon Teena from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is going through a sexual identity crisis, for Fariba it is purely a matter of survival.

An important similarity between the two films is the convincing performance of the protagonists. Jasmin Tabatabai (‘Bandits’, ‘Elementary Particles’) does a brilliant job as Fariba, who constantly has to suppress her sexual feelings and identity and learn to survive without her family, culture and lover. In a world that was strange to her, she noticed that prejudices exist there too, for example when she is confronted with how Muslims are viewed in the West. With looks, body language and nuances in her voice, Tabatabai knows how to say more than with a thousand words. After seeing the film you really feel that you got to know Fariba. Anneke Kim Sarnau (‘The Constant Gardener’) is also convincing as the understanding Anne. It’s a shame the script allows some plot holes, although that does leave room for the viewer’s own interpretation. ‘Unveiled’ is a film that makes you think about freedom in the broadest sense of the word. A film that touches your heart.

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