The Manchador

By Kaveh Tehrani | Comedy
A man invents a device that covers men's eyes -- so women don't have to wear hijabs.

Mina and Saeed live a stressful life in Tehran, the capital of Iran. They're a happily married couple and treat one another as equals, with love, respect and affection, and their life together is prosperous and happy. But as a woman, Mina finds going outside her home to be hard, as she must follow many customs designed to protect her from the lecherous gazes of men. She wants to move abroad so she can live with more freedom, even though Tehran is their home.

To stay in their beloved city, Saeed invents the "manchador," which covers up men's eyes so that they can't look upon women. Despite the skepticism, the manchador transforms Saeed's life, and he institutes the manchador at his company and lets the women be more comfortable without their scarves, which makes them more productive. The manchador even goes viral, transforming the very fabric of society itself. But soon the manchador draws the attention of the authorities, who shut Saeed down, forcing things back to the status quo but leaving Saeed with new questions to confront.

Written and directed by Kaveh Tehrani, this short comedy is a smart, gently satirical take on religion and tradition, taking the form of a mockumentary about one man's ingenuously goofy workaround for certain religious dictums that force his family to live one life in their home and another outside of it. It has the look and feel of one-camera comedies like Modern Family or Arrested Development, complete with quirky reactions and detail shots, though there's a stately quality to the cinematography and editing that makes the film more grounded and often quite lovely to look at.

That groundedness in the visuals serves the narrative well, as the storytelling goes unexpectedly deep. It begins with a lightness as the manchador is invented and gains traction with Saeed's life, and it's funny to see the premise taken to a progressive extreme, though the humor always stays subtle and understated. But eventually, the story transforms, as it charts the transformation of a man who willfully takes away his sight and gains a richer experience of his own humanity and the world around him.

Actor Reza Brojerdi's performance traverses both the comedic and existential aspects of the story, ably portraying Saeed's initial excitement that the manchador will let him stay in Tehran. But as he comes to appreciate and love his invention for how it transforms his inner self, expanding his spirit and enlarging his perspective. Even when the manchador is banned, he can't let it go, and though life goes back to the way it was, Saeed is just not the same.

Many satires are content to stay at the surface and go for easy laughs, but "The Manchador" has a certain thematic and emotional elasticity that makes it genuinely thoughtful and resonant. It uses its premise to interrogate not just religion and tradition, but also the interplay of images, perception and our subjective experience. It asks questions about the nature of spirituality itself, and how religious traditions do or do not reinforce this sense of spirit and soul. Saeed takes away his sight, but his senses become richer and his thinking more thoughtful, as it's less prone to distraction. But more importantly, he gains a true intimacy with his inner landscape, leading him down a path of genuine insight -- one that leads to a poignant realization about the importance of visions, dreams and spiritual longing when it comes to changing the world.

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