The film tells three different stories about women struggling for identity in Iran. Hava is a young girl who, on her ninth birthday, is told by her mother and grandmother that she has become a woman with particular responsibilities. She may no longer play with her best friend, a boy, and must wear a chador when outside the home. Hava is given the choice when to start taking on those responsibilities—noon that day. A stick pushed into the ground will mark time as the shadow at noon will align with the stick.
Ahoo is a married woman who is taking part in a cycling race. Ahead of the rest, Ahoo is pursued by her husband on horseback. He tries to persuade her to stop cycling and come home, and then threatens her with divorce. When Ahoo defiantly continues cycling, her husband brings a mullah who divorces them. Later, tribal superiors and male family members come to stop Ahoo as she tries to escape the social constraints of being a woman.
Hoora is an elderly widow who has recently inherited a great deal of money. She decides to buy all of the material possessions she has ever wanted, but could not have while she was married. She ties strings to her fingers to remind her what to buy, and hires several young boys to help her. They take her and her new belongings to the beach. As she floats out to a waiting ship, seemingly free from the bonds of womanhood, she is watched by two of the young women from the bicycle race, and Hava, now wearing her chador.Fatemeh Cherag Akhar as Hava
Hassan Nebhan as Hassan
Shahr Banou Sisizadeh as Mother
Ameneh Passand as Grandmother
Shabnam Tolouei as Ahoo
Sirous Kahvarinegad as Husband
Mahram Zeinal Zadeh as Osmann
Norieh Mahigiran as Rival Cyclist
Azizeh Sedighi as Hoora
Badr Iravani as Young Boy
The film was co-written by director Marzieh Meshkini, from a script by her husband Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It was shot on Kish Island in the Hormozgān Province in southern Iran. Makhmalbaf was on the island at the same time, shooting Testing Democracy. Some commentators have suggested that Makhmalbaf was the real director of The Day I Became a Woman (as well as the films of his daughters). Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has argued against these claims. Meshkini has said that as a female filmmaker, she found making a film in Iran particularly difficult, having to prove her abilities to the cast and crew before being accepted by them.
The Day I Became a Woman premièred at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. It went on to play at several festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival, the London Film Festival and the New York New Directors/New Films Festival. It was given a limited release in American theatres on April 6, 2001. On its release in Iran, it was temporarily banned.
The film won awards at the Venice Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Pusan International Film Festival, the Oslo Films from the South Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.
Critical response to the film was generally positive. Film review site Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 87% based on 55 reviews. Metacritic gave it a score of 84% based on 24 reviews. Writing for the New York Times, Stephen Holden called it a "stunner of a film" and "an astonishing directorial debut". He said that leaving characters' backgrounds and motives unexplored makes the film enigmatic. Roger Ebert said that the three stories lack "the psychological clutter of Western movies", describing this fact as a strength. In the Boston Phoenix, Chris Fujiwara said that the film was "largely successful, describing the second segment as the highlight, and calling the final story disappointing. In The New Yorker, Michael Sragow called the film "fierce, inspired filmmaking". Several critics described it as "Felliniesque".