Out of the Frying Pan

“Unveiled” crosses gender-bending and refugee politics in Europe

Unlike comedies such as “Some Like It Hot” or “Tootsie,” gender-bending dramas have a more difficult time bearing their odd yet interesting fruit—one of the weirdest being “Pope Joan” in which Liv Ullman takes advantage of circumstances, poses as a man, and winds up the pontiff. And who could forget Neil Jordan’s “The Crying Game”? Along with the shock and awe, you wonder why no one seems to notice the gender switch.

Angelina Maccarone’s “Unveiled” is no exception. Fariba (Jasmin Tabatabai), an Iranian lesbian seeking refuge in Germany, takes advantage of a fellow countryman’s suicide to pose as a man and stay legally in Germany after convincing herself that it’s too risky to claim asylum by coming out to the authorities . She has left behind in Iran her girlfriend who wilted in the face of official oppression. Fariba refused to stop living her life as a lesbian.

And so, like Pope Joan before her, she cuts her hair and poses as Siamak, facing the benign but humiliating taunts of her factory co-workers who call her “ayatollah.” A more threatening development occurs when these men insist on a “boy’s night out” and set her up with a stripper/hooker.

Up until the time Fariba is “unveiled,” the movie clock seems to plod along quite slowly, but is sustained by the nervous tension of her worry of being uncovered—as an illegal immigrant, as a woman, and as a lesbian. Low-lit, sometimes grainy images amplify her dim prospects.

“Unveiled” is probably best served by its original German title, “Fremde Haut,” or “other skin,” as more of the movie takes place during the time she’s posing as Siamak. The most interesting plot turn is Fariba’s budding relationship with Anne (Anneke Kim Sarnau), who suspects something is wrong and is hurt that Fariba is hiding something.

Once Fariba let’s her cat out of its tightly secured bag, “Unveiled” suddenly became a different, fast-paced film. Being able to talk to Anne and winning her unconditional support makes all the difference in the world. Previously, Fariba’s only connection to her old life came in writing Siamak’s parents to let them know their son is okay. Even the music, until this point mostly a forlorn acoustic guitar with some Eastern flavor thrown in, picks up its pace and supports a “Thelma and Louise” moment between the women.

Like “Boys Don’t Cry” before it, “Unveiled” proves that sometimes, total disclosure is worth the risk, and sometimes, love and attraction transcend gender to such a point that its conventions are practically rendered meaningless.

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