Film poster.

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"Do we have to sit in separate areas?" I asked, prepared as usual to expect a response that indicates that I have asked a silly question. "Yes of course, girls sit on one side and boys on the other... why, did you think we'd all sit together?". "No no, I guess it makes sense, who knows what might happen in the dark?" I answered thinking nothing more of it.

I'd been looking forward to my first cinema trip for some time. Having heard many good reviews of the Iranian cinematography I was keen, but not as keen to see how an Islamic cinema functions.

Earlier that day I had given a talk to Tehran University's MA Illustration undergrads and my translator was possibly going to have to continued her role as we made our way to the Tehran picture house. Whether or not it is Islamic to be able to sit beside my female guest was one of the many questions that spun around my mind like the reels that waited before us.

Having stocked up on provisions consisting of cashew nuts, pineapple juice and an unwanted chocolate bar given due to the lack of change, we sat with other visitors on the marble side section and discussed the film title. "Caharshambeh Soory", which refers to the last Wednesday of the year in the Iranian calendar. On this day people jump over fires, throw fireworks at each other and drop bangers in anything that might rile somebody.

A buzzer sounded repeatedly and a yellow light flashed on a small sign nearby. To me this indicated that it is my turn to see the doctor but to my fellow audience it was viewing time. I passed on my guest's half of the provisions as we entered the door expecting to separate to each side of the cinema, yet as we entered I saw the audience was mixed and there were no sides. I had to check that we'd actually stepped into a cinema due to this and also due to it looking more like a airplane cabin - very narrow with maybe 5-seats by 15-rows.

We sat down in the second to last row and no sooner had bum united seat than the screen was lit-up. I became confused, it didn't look like a trailer, we hadn't had any certification notice and I was not told to turn my mobile off. There was no film, then there was film - no preceding husky voice nor sequential explosions.

I tried not to ask my guest what was happening but the pace of conversion that unfolded before was incomprehensible. Thankfully my guest was informing me of the general plot and with the Farsi that I knew and the imagery I was not too far from the happenings. But however I was distracted and it wasn't by the audience members who conversed on their mobiles during the film. The explosion finally came littering my mind with a mass of question marks that required cleaning up.

Is it permitted to have a scene of a woman without a headscarf - even if the scene is in a private home, without men around? Can scenes from other countries showing foreign (non-Islamic) women without headscarfs be shown? Can images of women without headscarfs be visible in a scene? Is it permitted to see at least a single hair on a females head?

Hair, it seemed, was ruining my viewing experience, even more so than the hideously poor sound quality. I felt confused, these questions seemed so ridiculous. The inconsistency between what I know, what I see and what is expected overwhelmed me.

No sooner had the film ended than the usual Iranian, "every man for himself" scrabble out of the exit begun. The room emptied and the screen darkened leaving peace and myself behind to sneak in a photo or two. Upon finally leaving I contemplated that for a change there is more hair in my head than on it.


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