Unveiled

English Title: Unveiled

Original Title: Fremde Haut

Country of Origin: Germany, Austria

Studio: MMM Film Zimmermann & Co., Fischer Film

Director: Angelina Maccarone

Producer(s): Ulrike Zimmermann

Screenplay: Judith Kaufmann, Angelina Maccarone

Cinematographer: Judith Kaufmann

Editor: Bettina Böhler

Runtime: 2005 minutes

Genre: Queer Cinema, Drama

Language: German, Persian, English

Starring/Cast: Navid Akhavan, Anneke Kim Sarnau, Hinnerk Schönemann, Jasmin Tabatabai

Year: 2005

Volume: German

Synopsis:

Persecuted for her affair with a married woman, Iranian translator Fariba Tabrizi (Tabatabai) flees Tehran to Germany seeking asylum. Ashamed to reveal the sexual nature of her claim, she states political reasons instead. Without documented proof, her request is swiftly denied. Awaiting deportation at the Frankfurt airport, she meets Siamak (Akhavan), another Iranian refugee. Out of guilt for the arrest of his brother and in fear of deportation, Siamak commits suicide. After discovering the body, Fariba decides to assume his identity. She is granted refugee status in his place and placed in refugee housing, where it becomes clear that asylum means having to live in cramped quarters for an indefinite period of time. Looking for a way out, Fariba finds illegal work in a cabbage factory. Masquerading as a shy Muslim man, Fariba endures xenophobic banter from her German colleagues. The female co-workers, however, and in particular Anne (Sarnau), are intrigued. Anne falls in love with Fariba as a man, and eventually as a woman. Her male co-workers are not as open-minded. Upon discovery, a brawl ensues and the police arrive. Fariba’s illegal status exposed, she is deported back to Iran. Yet, still resolved to start anew, Fariba rips up her passport on the plane ride home and reassumes a male identity.


Critique:

Several scholars have explored Unveiled predominately under the auspices of migration.[1] More specifically, some have demonstrated how the narrative sheds light on the way geographical border crossings give rise to corporal ones in terms of race, class, nation, religion, gender and sexuality. First, the film highlights the difficulties faced by the LGBTQ community in terms of (European) immigration. Self-identified as a lesbian, Fariba must flee Iran to avoid arrest and even possibly the death penalty. The film’s original title, Fremde Haut, also calls attention to the transitory nature of identity or, in this case, the possibility of transitory embodiments of identity. In German, fremde haut can mean ‘foreign skin,’ ‘strange skin,’ or even ‘unknown skin’ or ‘alien skin.’ In this respect, Fariba must assume an alternate national identity in order to survive, or literally save her own skin. She willingly seeks asylum in Germany. Yet, suffering from internalized homophobia, Fariba cannot proclaim her lesbian identity to German immigration, who may have granted her asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation persecution. Even at the end of the film, when Fariba is deported back to Iran, where she could possibly start a new life (as a woman), she chooses instead to transition (again) to become a man. One may interpret her decision in two ways: either Fariba finds her desire for women psychologically rectified (and legally sanctified in Iran), if and only if she is a man; or Fariba discovers, through her impersonation of a man, that she now prefers to identify as a man or as transgendered, more so than as a woman. In any case, when Fariba is disrobed, or rather as Anne unbinds Fariba’s breasts, Fariba is clearly uncomfortable, shuddering under Anne’s gaze of her exposed female/feminine body. Even when Fariba finds herself in locations where she may safely express the gender identity of a woman, she does so reluctantly.

 

In terms of race and religion, Fariba continues to perform the role of a devout Muslim, in face of prejudice and social ostracization as exemplified by the working-class, white and presumably Christian-identifying Germans in the small factory where Fariba works. Problematically, the translation of the film’s title into English as Unveiled overshadows the film with the arguably clichéd religious connotation of the oppressed, veiled Muslim woman, and this at the expense of the obvious and more prominent issues of sexual and gender oppression at play.

 

That which is truly ‘unveiled’ in this film is the interlocking systems of oppression, which coerce people to reveal or cover up certain identities as they navigate the altering geographical and corporal terrains of various times and spaces. This sense of restrictions and permissions, as stops and go’s, is further emphasized symbolically by the film’s overarching colour scheme of greens and reds (the colours of the Iranian flag), notably take on alternating connotations, complicating this dichotomy: the green of the German police; lighting in the refugee holding compound; the field where Fariba buries Siamak and the fields where the women have their first date; the cabbages and the green factory, and Fariba’s own outfits/disguises. Alternately, red is the colour of the sweater of her roommate who secures her work; Anne’s outfits, scooter and bed; the red light district (where Fariba is recognized as a woman); and the colour of the Avis car rental, where Fariba steals a car to buy a fake passport. The film ends with Fariba tearing up her deportation papers, placing Siamak’s red Iranian passport in her back pocket, and removing her head covering to reveal her male persona, including the grey-green jacket. Here, we may read the conflicting colours again symbolically, whereby the red of the passport might signal the dangers that await her in her homeland; and contrastingly, the grey-green costume gestures towards another beginning.



[1] See Deniz Göktürk, David Gramling and Anton Kaes (eds.) (2007), Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration 1955–2005, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Author of this review: Samantha Michele Riley