Review: Unveiled – Fremde Haut (2005)

Unveiled – Fremde 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, Franke Ruth Wohlschlegel, Yevgeni Sitokhin

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

Thirty-year-old translator Fariba Tarizi (Jasmin Tabatabai) has fled her native Iran after it was revealed that she was in a relationship with a married woman. With false papers she boards 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. In anticipation of her fate, she ends up in a reception center for illegal immigrants, in a no man’s land near the airport. There she meets Siamak (Navid Akhavan), a young political activist who is about to be sent back to death. He can no longer handle the stress 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 runs into various prejudices and has to twist herself in all sorts of ways to keep her true identity hidden. However, she also meets Anne (Anneke Kim Sarnau), for whom she develops warm feelings.

Director Angelina Maccarone made a smashing debut at the international film festivals in 1997 with ‘Everything Will Be Fine’. The German has since been working with Judith Kaufmann on the script for ‘Unveiled’, which was given the title ‘Fremde Haut’ in her own country. Together with lead actress Jasmin Tabatabai, an Iranian-born singer and actress successful in Germany, she put the finishing touches in the script and ensured that Iranian culture was presented in the most realistic way possible. The result is an impressive portrait of a woman who desperately suppresses her natural desires for fear for 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. While ‘Unveiled’ is completely fictional despite its realistic character, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ was based on a true story. In addition, the reasons for the protagonists to pose as men are quite different. Brandon Teena from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is going through a sexual identity crisis, for Fariba it’s purely a matter of survival.

An important similarity between the two films is the convincing performance of the lead actresses. Jasmin Tabatabai (“Bandits”, “Elementary Particles”) does a brilliant job as Fariba, who must constantly repress 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 more than a thousand words. After seeing the film you really feel that you have gotten to know Fariba. Anneke Kim Sarnau (‘The Constant Gardener’) is also convincing as the understanding Anne. It is a pity that the script allows for 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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