Eddie on the Run
Facing Mirrors is part of the exciting new Iranian cinema which is flourishing and offering subtle social criticism despite being created within the shadow of religious fundamentalism. First time woman director and co-writer, Negar Azarbayjani, has woven a powerful and sometimes even humorous tale which, like the recent Iranian masterwork, A Separation, deals with complex intertwining issues of women's roles in society, familial bonds and craziness, class structure, crushing bureaucracy, manhood and religion. But at the core of Facing Mirrors is the story of Eddie, a trans man who can no longer live in his country, especially under the crushing impact of his powerful, wealthy father, who is disgusted by his trans son and wishes to marry him off (as a woman) to a cousin.
Rana wonders about her strange passenger
Eddie's version of a hijab
The second half of the film returns to Tehran and, without giving too much away, further involves Eddie's attempts to leave Iran and escape capture. He lives with Rana and her adorable son, who is much taken with the surrogate dad (who he, however, obliviously refers to as 'auntie'). Eddie also tolerates Rana's tart mother-in-law who makes his life miserable with endless misgendering. Facing Mirrors expertly captures that moment in binary transition when one isn't one nor the other, being called out for one's birth gender with all-around general suspicion that a freak is in their midst. It captures the pain and longing for escape from body, past and place. How there is "no one to go back to yet no clear destination either." Eddie is ultimately sad that, despite his money, he hasn't experienced any of the love Rana has in her life and the kind of profound connection she has with her husband.
Director Azarbayjani (l) and actress
Shayesteh Irani "Un-Edied" (r)
Shayesteh Irani "Un-Edied" (r)
Ms. Azarbayjani and the film's producers were in attendance at the screening I saw and said the core of the story came from a trans woman the director knew when they were teens but that she developed the script with a trans man at the center of it and merged it with a script the co-writer, Fereshteh Taerpoor, had about a woman cab driver. The two lead actresses, relative newcomers Qazal Shakeri as Rana and Shayesteh Irani as Eddie are both brilliant (Shakeri, the producer's daughter, was originally and continued to be the set designer as well!). No, Irani is not trans and, as the director was very eager to point out, looks totally different in real life (in other words, she's a 'regular' woman). They are very nearly matched by Nima Shahrokh Shahi as Eddie's brother, giving a brilliant performance of a man torn apart by intense familial obligations and his love for his younger sibling.
There are a few soft spots in the film. At no point do the filmmakers mention how, in Iran, in order to have SRS one legally requires the permission of one's family (even if you transition as an adult). Eddie seemingly has zero contacts with other trans or queer people in Iran. For a gutsy, upper-class person who grew up in Tehran, he seems a little too isolated. There were also a few points of melodrama towards the end where I thought the film veered into a slightly simplistic "poor lonely transgender guy" sentimentality while it tried hard to have the audience's sympathy. But these are minor complaints for a film with so much emotional truth. If nothing else, it shows how trans people are not "widely accepted" (as the Internet trope goes) and their lives are very much as difficult as gay men and lesbians encounter in a traditional Islamic republic.
Rana and Edie