by Afra Nariman
The Red Suitcase (2022)
Director: Cyrus Neshvad
Stars: Nawelle Evad, Sarkaw Gorani
There’s a line that is spoken by one of the “characters” in Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (2015) that says: “We need to get to the roots of the problem.” That is to say, issues of freedom, the fight against misogyny, etc. in Iran are not limited to being combatted by only a political revolution (i.e. the fall of the Islamic Republic regime). Although the death of this regime is the most important and vital element of ensuring a better, free and democratic future for Iran, there is also the need for a sort of “cultural revolution.” A life living under the tyranny of a gender-apartheid state that not only endorses, but violently enforces misogynistic limitations at every turn of society, has over the past four decades, made it so that a portion of the older generation in Iran today — although still explicitly against the Islamic Republic and apartheid as law — have remnants of ingrained misogyny present still in their traditional ways of thinking. In other words, when living under a regime that regresses thought processes in regard to gender roles, some members of that generation (especially considering they grew up before the internet age and were isolated from knowing how the rest of the world lives and thinks) have at the very least stayed stagnant; not necessarily regressing individually in their ways of thinking like the regime, but having not progressed in their views of gender roles, etc. either over the past 40+ years. This younger generation is resistant though; politically but also culturally. The shift is happening, and right now this resistance is happening simultaneously with the political movement against the regime — the future of Iran is in the hands of women and men whose ways of thinking are on par with what we typically experience in “free” countries (and this doesn’t mean perfect).
All of the above is essentially the contextual backdrop of what makes the story being told in The Red Suitcase so daring, and so powerful. A young woman (16 yo), in order to leave behind life under the Islamic Republic is essentially sold by her father to an older Iranian man living in Europe, to be his new bride in an arranged marriage. This incites fear and anxiety for the young woman, who when faced with the reality of the situation her father had willingly put her in, does everything she can to hide from her potential husband and escape the situation. The notion of living with this old-fashioned and misogynistic man is too similar to the tyranny of living under the Islamic Republic. One (IR) is a macro-political battle experienced in the public sphere of society (and everyone experiences this to a minimum of the same degree); the other is a micro-cultural one experienced at the individual level inside of the family unit (to vastly varying degrees, including not at all for more liberal families in Iran). In the end, to ensure her freedom from the clutches of this “new life” her father had set up for her, the young woman must sacrifice every semblance of self-identity she has left — in this case, her artwork and her every belonging. She must start over in life. Importantly, the final scene illustrates the importance of her making her own decision on how to live and what to do next (likely for the first time ever). We see that her father texts her that he is worried since the husband could not find her. He offers her an alternative: come home… I’ll let you do whatever you want in life. The young woman ignores this offer, and rather than return to living in a home that didn’t respect her — that willingly sold her in an arranged marriage against her wishes — in a country that’s every law limits her expression of self, and oppresses her daily; she picks the loneliness of a fresh start. Here, it is the status quo of both the political (life under the regime) and the cultural (her father’s offer) that she (the young generation) rejects, choosing her own path forward.
The other aspect of The Red Suitcase that is significant is that it is essentially a story about the moment and the experience of an Iranian entering the diaspora. Over the past four decades, in an effort to leave behind a life under the Islamic Republic’s terror, Iranians have left Iran to start over — and almost always, being a part of a diaspora — especially the first generation of one — means to be alone, without any roots, in a new and unfamiliar place with no direction or notion of what could come next. The generation directly after the 1979 revolution, and throughout the 1980’s postwar, were the largest influx of Iranian diaspora around the world. But still since, like the young woman in this film, the diaspora grows as individuals seek freedom from the IR. The Red Suitcase illustrates the fear, anxiety, and loneliness that this experience exudes, but highlights the bravery and self-assuredness that it has taken all members of the first generation’s diaspora in making the decision to start over, without roots.
Fantastic film. It’s nominated for Best Short Film at the Oscars this year. Since the academy snubbed Holy Spider’s nomination (the regime was never going to allow Hit the Road or No Bears to be nominated), it would be awesome if The Red Suitcase wins its category!
MY RATING /5:
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