The Glass House, directed by Hamid Rahmanian, is a documentary of the lives of a group of young women at the Omid e Mehr day center in Tehran. These women deal with a range of issues, including drug addiction and sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. Omid e Mehr’s staff provides these women with social services and vocational training so that they can become self-sufficient. The Glass House played at the 2009 Sundance Festival and the 2009 BAMcinemaFEST.
The film focuses on the stories of four women. Sussan is a young woman who has been abused by her brother and keeps getting in short term marriages (called sigheh marriages). Nazila finds a voice for her frustration through rap music, which is illegal (women in Iran cannot sing unless they are part of a chorus). Samira struggles to overcome a drug addiction to pills that began when her mother force fed them to her as a child. Lastly, Mitra is a young woman who searches for refuge from her abusive father and brother in poetry.
All the women have stories that are heartbreaking, but also uplifting. The dedication and care Samira’s father shows while waiting for his daughter to get clean in a rehab center is touching. Nazila and her sister work on their recording, and Mitra writes poetry while finding employment. While their lives are difficult, they manage to remain hopeful. They learn healthy strategies to help them cope with their lives. This, I felt, was the strongest point of film. Rahmanian shows Iranian women who deal with complex problems and in turn create complex solutions for themselves.
While the premise of the film was interesting, the film itself was not. I found it difficult to maintain my attention throughout the 92-minute documentary–not because the stories aren’t interesting, but rather because they’re not told in a way that would keep a viewer’s interest. Despite this, the film did present a nuanced portrait of Iranian women that didn’t portray them as victims or even as martyrs always fighting for a cause—just as women who deal with everyday issues.
Still, I found the film difficult to watch because Rahmanian jumps from one story to another throughout the film. I felt the film had no real focus and there was no coherent message that the viewer could take away. I wondered what Rahmanian was trying to say about disadvantaged Iranian women, besides the fact that their lives are difficult and they need various support systems to cope. After watching it, I thought the women’s stories were sad and hopeful, but little beyond that. There was nothing unique about Iranian women in the documentary. The stories in the film could fit the lives of millions of women around the world. In fact, the lives of the four women bear much resemblance to the lives of women in any rehabilitation center.
The film presents a portrait of the lives of Iranian women who have been marginalized and have few social resources available to them. For viewers who have little knowledge of Iranian women on the fringe of society, this might be a good introduction of the various struggles (such as drug addiction, domestic abuse, and lack of employment) they face, as well the resilience they can have. However, I hope that Rahmanian’s next project has a clearer message than The Glass House.