By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film Critic
SAN FRANCISCO — Last week I talked about the lack of transgender movies in English. The pickings are already thin for female-to-male films, so we really have to take whatever we can get. Unveiled (2005) is a film done in two foreign tongues, German and Farsi with subtitles.
This isn’t truly a transsexual movie but more about transvestism. Fariba Tabrizi (Jasmin Tabatabai) is an Iranian lesbian. It’s illegal to be any kind of gay or lesbian in Iran and she’s fleeing the country. She’s headed for Germany because her lover’s husband found out about them and reported her to the Morals Police. The penalty for being a lesbian is prison, torture or even death. Fariba’s lover recants and swears on the Koran that she will never be involved with a woman again. Fariba can’t do that because it would be a lie. She would most probably be hanged for her sexual orientation.
On the plane she meets Siamak (Navid Navid), a young man who is also fleeing, but for him it’s because he a member of a banned political group. They are both seeking asylum in Germany. Siamak is granted asylum, but German authorities plan to send Fariba back to Teheran and her death. Being queer isn’t a good enough reason for asylum.
They are being held in an immigration facility and the night before her departure, Siamak commits suicide. Desperate, Fariba cuts her hair, dresses in Siamak’s clothes and assumes his identity. She has illegally entered the country and must constantly be on the alert for the authorities who soon enough will discover the deception.
Away from the holding facility, she continues living as a man. She does many of same things a newly transitioning trans man would do. She binds her breasts, finds a way to fake a beard shadow and wears men’s clothing. Beginning as a very feminine woman, she can pass as a man.
Fariba finds a job in a cabbage-processing plant. Her fellow employees take a liking to her and include her in off-the-clock activities. One of them in particular is a straight woman. Things get complicated.
The film deals with some issues that are emerging in the U.S. presidential race. Immigration and deportation are hot issues both with the Republican candidates and the public. Here a woman faces execution for her sexual orientation in her home country, yet still she’s to be deported. LGBT people face violence and discrimination in many Latin American countries, but it’s very difficult to get asylum for gender and sexual orientation issues. The authorities ask Fariba for a copy of her order for execution.
Fluidity of sexual orientation is another element of the story. If you find yourself in romantic love with someone, does their gender really matter? The fear of same-sex relations may be rooted in fear of the social consequences of being queer.
Islamophobia is another hot-button issue. Just three days ago presidential candidate Ben Carson said that a Muslim is unfit to be President. France has a law prohibiting women wearing a hijab (head scarf), or a veil in public. I wonder if this law is enforced on older Catholic women who wear scarfs to church. Despite her problems in Iran, Fariba remains true to her faith. The problem is with the government, not Allah.
I really enjoyed the film. The characters and the story were very complex. They behaved in unexpected but mostly believable ways. There is so much to recommend in this drama. It has so many elements like love, hate and persecution.
It’s really hard to judge the scripting when you don’t speak either language, but the subtitles move the story along and it maintains a level of suspense throughout. Both German and Iranian actors create very realistic characters and it turns out only one is truly villainous.
It touches on so many things. I strongly recommend this movie.
Available on Wolfe Video On Demand, US 3.99 for 48-hour rental.