GAIFF Pro Critics Campus: My Stolen Planet

English Daily #2
by Patrick Fey

Born in 1979, a few weeks after the Islamic Revolution had overthrown the Iranian Pahlavi dynasty, director Farahnaz Sharifi was raised into a life of defiance. In her essayistic feature debut My Stolen Planet, which premiered at this year’s Berlinale, this frame of mind is perceptible at every moment of its 80-minute runtime, revolving, recurrently, around the hijab. Ever since the director’s childhood, the mandatory headgear divided her life into “two planets'' — the public, enshrouded one, and the private, unveiled one.

Adopting this binary structure to assert both the personal and collective perspective is clearly at the heart of Sharifi’s cinematic project. It comes, however, at the risk of forcing the director’s own metaphor onto a populace that’s rarely allowed to speak for itself, especially as her voiceover tends to loquacity. Against a theocratic regime that, to this day, seeks not only to alter but in many ways eradicate the cultural memory of a people, the circulation of images offers an all-the-more powerful antidote against communal oblivion. At its best, Sharifi’s approach complicates these binaries into dialectics, fleshed out through emancipatory phone videos of Sharifi’s family and friends on the one hand, and footage of public denunciations of women who do not abide by the mandatory hijab wear on the other. Images, Sharifi suggests, function both as means to rethink our realities and as accomplices of a surveillance state repressing all dissident voices. With My Stolen Planet, it is precisely this latter notion of divide and rule that Sharifi attempts to transcend.