Movie Review By Casey McCabe
"The Girl in the Sneakers" gives Westerners the opening salvo they might expect from post-revolutionary Iranian cinema. An attractive young boy and girl stroll in a Tehran park, exchanging coy glances and wide-eyed New Age philosophies until they are arrested and whisked away to holding cells by a police bureaucracy that apparently has nothing better to do than pursue teenagers of the opposite sex who dare speak to each other.
After the girl undergoes a test of her virginity administered with all the sensitivity of a DMV eye exam, she returns to her middle class Tehran home. And there, under the watchful eye of a Backstreet Boys poster, the film ventures into unexpected territory: the possibility that moody, hormonal girls truly are the same the world over.
Directed by Iranian film veteran Rassul Sadr Ameli, "The Girl in the Sneakers" tells its story with the casual lope of our 15 year old heroine Tadai, who spends the next day ambling away from home, sampling the various social strata of life in Tehran and stopping at every phone to see if she can get her forbidden beau to pick up on the other end. During one of these calls, when the boy's mother has answered, the frustrated girl turns to a middle age man who has been watching her. He knows exactly what the girl is going through and happily improvises as the boy's school teacher, getting the necessary info out of the Mom. The would-be professor becomes the girl's understanding mentor and confidant for the duration of the walk back to his place, where his planned seduction quickly goes awry.
Virtually all the adults she will encounter, all the way down to a rough and tumble gypsy campground, will exhibit a similar blend of sincere empathy and ulterior motive, and somehow it never plays as hypocrisy. Here "The Girl in the Sneakers" veers sharply from American films by suggesting that adults are considerably wiser than teenagers. And though a few may wish to have sex with teenagers, no adult looks on teens with envy. Teen romance is difficult anywhere, no doubt more so when you are a young woman and the state actually IS aligned against you. But the notion that the world has conspired to thwart your profound and righteous young love is as ubiquitous as acne The adults in the film recognize the real drama in her situation, but even their concern for the young runaway can't always hide a sad, sly grin at her addiction to self-inflicted melodrama.
Yet director Ameli still makes The Girl in the Sneakers a courageous figure, even as she's ultimately surrendering. It's clear that Tadai is several miles deeper than the philosophic young man she'd been mooning over. She's safe and certainly wiser for the journey. But a happy future is far from assured. This is a small, and sometimes poky film, but it has deceptive strength. There's even a whiff of "American Beauty" in its challenge to an Iranian middle class obsessed with respectability.
But what "The Girl in the Sneakers" does best is take you somewhere you've never been, and let you walk several miles in someone else's shoes. Sometimes that's all you should ask a film to do.
© 2001 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 6/27/01
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