Ida Panahandeh’s Titi is a character study about an Iranian Roma woman caught between two unworthy men in a society controlled by men.
Titi is currently streaming across the US until May 23 at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival. Tickets are available here. The film does not have US distribution so this may be the only chance to see it.
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I first encountered the work of Iranian filmmaker Ida Panahandeh at Cannes 2015 with her first feature, Nahid. It was a really impressive character study about life under patriarchy, and the film won the best first feature award in Un Certain Regard. Unfortunately, it virtually disappeared afterward; I haven’t been able to track down a way to rewatch it since. Her two next features had a similar fate (I’ve yet to be able to find them, but would love to!).
So I highly recommend taking the rare opportunity to catch up with her newest and fourth feature, Titi, while it’s streaming this week. It’s the story of an Iranian Roma woman, Titi (Elnaz Shakerdust), who works as a cleaner in a hospital where she meets a physicist with a brain tumour. She takes an instant liking to him, and soon, their lives become entangled when his ex-wife asks her to throw out his pages of scientific proofs, and Titi decides to keep them, instead. He seeks her out in search of the papers which contain elusive ideas he can no longer remember that he thinks might be the answer to a black hole problem he’s been working on for years. Soon, they become friends and Titi finds herself in increasingly difficult situations.
Titi is an uneducated, poor woman, who spends the film trying to help others while being taken advantage of by men within an already patriarchal system. She is carrying a surrogate baby, and it’s suggested she suffered from postpartum depression after previous surrogate pregnancies. Her fiance treats her like she’s worthless and ignorant, often beating her in an attempt to, as he puts it, “beat the crazy out of her.” He’s also holding one of the physicist’s papers hostage, and puts Titi in the middle of a power scrabble between the two men. The physicist initially seems like a kinder-hearted man, but he, too, is not immune to using his male privilege to hurt women, from his ex-wife to Titi.
Like Nahid, Titi is a character-driven film about a woman placed in an impossible situation with only bad options. It’s not without its issues, and occasionally falls into the trap of the cliche of the rational scientific man and the silly spiritual woman. Still, it deals with a number of taboo topics in Iranian culture while centering a female perspective and features strong performances.
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