Ayneh (The Mirror) (1997)
Director: Jafar Panahi.
Starring: Mina Mohammad Khani (Little Girl / Mina), Aida Mohammadkhani (Mina), Kazem Mojdehi, Naser Omuni, M. Shirzad, T. Samadpour.
a young girl professionally acts the part of a girl in Tehran who gets lost; she suddenly quits the film and the film crew follow her to see if she makes it back home on her own
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Motaghin's Primary School. The gates open and the little girls come screaming and running out of the school yard. They cluster in a group and wait to be taken across the street by the crossing guard. The girls run across the road. A lot of them want to buy something from a mobile street vendor. An old man tries to cross the street over the white bars of a pedestrian crossing. The cars, however, just keep coming and no one stops for him. So he gives up his idea of crossing the street for the moment.
Two mothers arrive and pick up their girls. Mina and a friend are the only two left to be picked up. Her friend asks Mina if she wants the friend to call Mina's mom? Mina is not too sure of what to do. So the friend tells her that she is going to ask her mother to call Mina's mother.
Now poor Mina is alone waiting for her mother. To make things worse, she has her left arm in a cast held in place by a sling. Mina paces back and forth looking down the streets one way and then down the streets from another viewpoint. After a short wait, she calls out in the direction of the school for Mrs. Sadeghi. Mrs. Sadeghi comes out because she is going home. She asks what grade is Mina in? First grade, Mrs. Hashemi's class. The woman tells Mina to just wait here because he mother will be her any minute now. The married woman goes off to her shopping.
Mina crosses the street to get to the telephone booth. She has a hard time crossing. So she hooks onto a woman crossing the street and follows the woman across. She is watching the streets as she waits for the telephone booth to empty. It empties and she goes inside. But the girl can't reach the place to put the money in for the phone. She has to climb up a ways to be able to put her money in. She has no luck working the phone, gives up and starts walking again.
The old man tries to get across the road again and Mina follows him, but half-way across, he turns around and goes back. Now Mina has to finish the crossing on her own. She gets across but she also gets beeped at. Now Mina sees Mrs. Sadeghi back at the gate to the school. So she runs back across the road. The woman asks her: "Haven't you gone yet?"
A man is talking with Mrs. Sadeghi so Mina just has to wait. Mina gets tired of waiting and interrupts with: "What shall I do, Mrs. Sadeghi?" She tells Mina to play in the playground for a little while. The man tells the woman that he will take the girl home. The fellow asks Mina which way does she go to get home? She says they go down this street to the bus stop and they take the bus. So the man says that he will take her to the bus stop. Mina asks: "And what if my mother comes?" The fellow replies that Mrs. Sadeghi will tell her mother that he took her daughter to the bus stop.
Mina gets on the back of the man's scooter. And away they go. The man asks her why doesn't she take the school bus? Mina says that her dad says it costs too much. Then she says her mother has been off work for a week because she is going to give her (Mina) a little baby brother. The man suddenly stops the scooter and gets off. He goes into a store and drops off a coat.
The two go a bit farther down the road and then Mina tells him to stop. He does so and she jumps off. He tells her that this is not the bus stop, but she says her mother might be on the bus behind them. While looking into the bus she looks across the street and sees that her scooter driver has had an accident. His scooter is in the middle of the next lane and a lot of people are standing around, probably around the man.
Mina starts to get into the bus that had the accident with the scooter driver. The bus driver tells her that she has to enter from the rear of the bus because in the back is the women's section. The bus is really crowded. Mina finds a seat. She listens to a fortune teller reading the palm of a woman. Her advise is for the woman not to let her husband get rich, or he will get a second wife.
Mina suddenly shouts to stop the bus because her mother is out on the street. A man yells to the driver to open the back door because a little girl got left behind by her mother. The bus stops and Mina gets off. She runs down the block but suddenly stops. The woman on the street is not her mother. So now she gets in line to get back on the same bus from which she got off.
On the bus she sees the palm reader reading the palm of a little girl. A woman with a baby gets on the bus and Mina's seat mate, an old lady, tells Mina to get up and let the lady with the baby have the seat. Slowly Mina gets up. The woman sits down. The old lady complains about the youth of today. She says she actually had to tell the little girl twice to give up her seat.
Mina starts listening to the various conversations going on in the bus. One conversation is about a recent wedding that turned out to be a disaster for the bride. When a seat becomes available Mina sits down again. The old lady tells the lady with the baby that supposedly her two children were going to look after her, but they decided that they were going to send her to an old folk's home. The lady says she doesn't want to go to a home for old people.
Mina notices that a pretty young lady and a handsome young man keep glancing at each other. Mina smiles. An accordionist and a boy drummer play their music on the bus. A lady hands some money to Mina and tells her to give it to the musicians. She does so. There is no thank you given. (This was the second time where a thank you was not given.)
The old lady tells the mother with a child that she has a grandson but his parents won't let her see him. She says: "They say that my accent will affect his!" She says she embarrasses the parents of her grandson. The mother asks where does the old lady come from? Kermanshah. [Kermanshah is the capitol city of Kermanshah Provine, Iran, some 525 km west of Tehran. Most of the people are Shia Kurds. Their main languages are Kermanshahi Kurdish and Kedrmanshahi Persian.]
The bus stops again and a seat in the very back of the bus becomes available. Mina sits down in the back. The bus stops at another bus stop and now the remaining passengers all get off the bus. A cleaning man comes on the bus and the bus driver leaves. Now Mina is starting to cry. The bus driver notices her and goes to the back of the bus to talk with her. He asks her why did she get on a bus all alone? She explains that her mother didn't pick her up from school today. He has her describe her bus stop area and figures out that where she wants to go is Republic Square. She is on the wrong bus.
The bus driver has to speak with someone. Mina yells what should she do now? The bus driver tells asks her if she can make it home from her bus stop? Yes. He will transfer her over to another bus and the driver will let her off at Republic Square. He takes Mina to another bus and puts her on it. Mina keeps asking him if she can stay with him and he keeps telling her he is off for the day. Mina is not so sure about all this.
The bus driver goes over to the next bus driver for the bus Mina is now on and asks him to make sure the little girl now on his bus gets off at Republic Square. Of course.
Unfortunately, a bus worker tells Mina to go to the women's section in the back of the bus. While Mina goes to the back, she goes a little too far to the next bus. The bus she was supposed to take now pulls out of the bus terminal without Mina. The same bus worker comes over to Mina and asks her: "What are you doing? Mr. Morteza is waiting for you." Mr. Morteza asks why did she get off the bus? Mr. Nasser told her to stay on his bus. Mina won't answer. Finally, the bus worker tells the driver that he had chased the little girl off telling her to get in the back.
Reality now stops the action as the little actress says to the director that she is not acting anymore. She yells that she wants to get off the bus. So the bus driver stops the bus and the little actress gets off. She goes over to sit down with her back against a building. A woman tells the director that she will talk to the little girl. She goes over and tries to talk with the girl. The actress sees the cameraman still filming her and she shouts: "Lay off! I don't want to be filmed anymore."
The woman goes back to the director saying that the little girl wants to quit. She won't really open up to the woman. In fact, the girl says she is going to walk home all by herself. She says she knows the way. The crew think that the young actor playing the bus worker must have said something to the actress to upset her. He denies that. After the woman has no success in dealing with "Mina", the young man goes over to her talk with her. Meanwhile, the crew is filming the two actors talking.
The young man apologizes if he said something mean to her. He also tells her that they are all blaming him for her not acting. He asks her to please tell the crew that he did not say anything mean to her. Otherwise, he will be fired.
"Mina" is still not saying anything, so the decision is made just to follow the little girl. She keeps turning around to see if the crew is following her. Satisfied that they are not, she stops to ask directions to a square that has a fountain and a statue. Another man stops and she gives the description again. The fellow says it's Parliament Square. It's straight ahead.
Mia takes off running. She turns around again. Their view is suddenly blocked by a van next to them. Now they have to go find the little actress. They find her amidst a group of mostly males standing in a circle around her. A man is trying to sell a Xerox copy machine. Mina gets bored and takes off again. She starts running. Next she steps out onto the street and flags a taxi down. He asks her where is she going, but she can only give him a vague description. He tells her to stand farther up the street.
She just goes back to hailing a taxi. The taxi driver gets out of his cab to help the little girl cross the street, but "Mina" doesn't want to. So he takes her and puts her in the cab. A woman tells the driver to just take the girl where she wants to go and she will pay for the fare. The woman tells "Mina" that she can't just get into any old taxi because she might be kidnapped. Now an older gentleman escorts her over to a police car. But how can the policeman help her if she doesn't know the address or even how to get home. The older fellow keeps giving her the names of the avenues in the vicinity of Parliament Square. He asks if the name of her big avenue is Victory Avenue. She says yes and thanks. And now she takes off running again.
As she runs she sees the old lady who acted as the woman hurt by her children trying to put her in an old folk's home. "Mina" complains that they told her she was in first grade, but she is not. And they put a fake caste on her as if she was clumsy and fell down. Furthermore, she hates wearing the headscarf around her head. She asks if the crew told the old lady to do similar things? The old lady explains that a man hired her to sit on the bus and talk. He gave her some money, but the man was a bit rude to her. The little girl pleads with the woman to come to her house. No, no. She tells the little girl that her parents are probably worried about her and she should go home now. "Mina" starts running again.
She asks another cab driver to take her to Victory Avenue. She wants to pay 20 tomans for the ride but the driver says it's 60 tomans. The little girl says that it only cost 20 tomans when she went with his mother this morning. He tells her to wait for her mother. Someone asks if she is lost? No. Every time anyone asks if she is lost, she says no. The little girl goes into the telephone booth to call home. She gets her brother on the phone and says she would like to be picked up at Parliament Square. It seems her mother is not at home. So, she asks her brother to come down on the bike and pick her up. She doesn't have enough money for a taxi.
The streets are just full of cars. She hangs around with a woman with a child trying to get a cab. When a cab picks her up, "Mina" also jumps into the cab. The cab starts going in the wrong direction and the woman demands to be let out. She refuses to pay the driver because he did go the wrong way. So he asks about the little girl with her. The woman says the little girl is not with her. The little actress tries to get back in the taxi, but the driver refuses to take her anywhere. So she is left behind on the streets again.
She can't catch a cab, so she waits for a cab to stop and let the passengers out. A man gets into the cab and "Mina" slides herself into the back seat. In the taxi the driver and a woman argue about the proper role of a married woman at home. The man is much more conservative than the woman in the discussion. The man is proud to say that he has never done a thing in his household even though he is married. The fellow says: "A respectful man would never have his wife work." And how much can a woman make from working? Not much.
Some of the passengers get out of the cab. So "Mina" decides to leave too. She tries to give the cab driver 20 and a half tomans, but he refuses to take her money.
The crew in a car is stopped by a policeman. We can't hear what he is saying, but the cop looks probably at the permit to film and then says it's okay for them to go ahead. But now where is Mina? They continue driving around and pick up her voice again. A man is telling her that this is a bad place for a little girl to wait for her brother. The guy says that he used to dub John Wayne films into Persian. It sounds as if the sound man is with "Mina". He tells her to say hello to her father and just call him "John Wayne". Her father will remember that.
Now "Mina" is back to pacing back and forth waiting for her brother on a bike. And now she is running again. She asks a policeman if he knows where her house is? He asks how could he possibly know where her house is? She says he knows her father, saying he once gave her father a ticket and he had to pay a fine. Again the man says how could he remember just one man out of thousands who he has ticketed? "Mina" keeps pestering him. It seems she can remember everything her father ever said to the policeman, but she can't remember her own address.
The policeman takes the little girl over to the garage, where, according to "Mina", her father had his car fixed. And so the little girl tells the garage men all about the time she came with her father to get the car fixed. The conversation goes on and on with the many men and the one little girl. She finally tells them that if they take her to her school, the Assyeh School, she could walk home from there. A man says he will take her to her school on the back of his motorcycle. "Mina" doesn't want to do that. She asks which way to go, they tell her, and off she runs. She recognizes a toy store and goes inside. She says hello to Mr. Habib. And he says hello, Miss Mina. She tells him all about not wanting to act any more. He says to her: "But I recommended you." He then says she would have gotten some money for acting, but Mina says that she doesn't want it. Once more, she takes off running.
Mina runs home, rings the door bell and the door is opened for her. A woman from the film crew asks Mr. Habib if he could give this mike to Mina? Also tell her that she must keep the mike with her. Habib asks what they said to Mina to get her so upset? The woman says that nothing offensive was said to her and that the little girl would not listen to her. So Habib takes the mike over to Mina's house. Along the way, the woman runs up to him to tell him he accidentally turned the mike off. Habib rings the bell. Mina comes to the door and Habib says she has to finish the film. Mina says she won't do it. Habib accidentally turns the mike off again.
Habib returns to the film crew and apologizes for accidentally turning the mike off again. He tells the woman that the little girl is really mad at them. He says he can get another talented girl for the film. The woman says no thanks. Habib says goodbye.
Cute film, but what do we learn from her journey through the city of Teheran? We learn that the sexes are very segregated from each other. For instance, each bus has a "back" section that is the section for women and girls. Mina is told to get onto the bus through the rear door. And, of course, women use the headscarf or a headscarf and a veil. A taxi driver brags to a woman that in all his many years of marriage he has never helped out in the house.
We learn that it is really tough crossing a Teheran street mainly because the streets are packed with cars and motorcycles. There are white bands marking a crossing area, but no one stops for the pedestrians unless the pedestrians are right in their path. Poor Mina had to hook up with an adult to get across the street. Nor did the cars stop for an old man and it took him three tries before he finally got across.
There were a few times when a thank you was called for (in the USA, for instance) but was never given. Even a kid on the bus playing music with his father for money doesn't says thank you when money is handed to him.
The city residents, however, seem friendly. They do answer the little girl's questions of where to go and a few people even spent awhile trying to help her. It's hard to help her because she never learned her home address. Like most big cities, there is a crime problem. A woman warns the little girl that she has to be very cautious about just jumping into any old cab because she could be kidnapped.
We also learn that Mina is a very stubborn and determined girl. Mina Mohammad Khani (Little Girl / Mina) did a very good job as the girl Mina.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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