But if the conversations go round in circles, the emotions bounce off each other like pinballs. The sketches are not ordered sequentially; instead, different moods are interspersed randomly, so that we jump from positive to negative, from private to general, from jealousy to confidences, from bonding to forceful imposition, from marriage to separation, readjusting our own position as spectators each time. And yet, the possibilities of movement and change for each member of the couple, in particular the actual limitations placed on the woman, are rigidly set out in the opening scene, somehow putting a full stop to the conversation even before it starts.
After a long and winding car journey, where neither Akbari nor the viewer knows where the man is taking her in the dark – could it be a restaurant, a romantic spot? – he finally stops the car, switches off the lights, and in the darkness forcefully checks with his fingers if she’s still a virgin, breaking the hymen as he does. This cold, self-righteous ‘marking-the-territory’ gesture means that any challenge to social conventions in the conversations that follow feel like small triumphs.
In the end, it all comes back to the different public roles that we all play to a greater or lesser extent – as women, men, partners, parents – which are very much determined for us by the society we live in. As such, 20 Fingers concludes with a coda comprised of footage from interviews that the filmmaker conducted in the car with different men speaking about relationships – the men always in the passenger seat, with Akbari interviewing them from the driver’s seat. Yet the key question poised by the male character during the film remains: ‘If there is real love, is there any need for all these games’. For the real power of this exercise (and Akbari´s film) lies in questioning the impact of these acquired (and more often than not, meaningless) conventions, both in the public and the private spheres. By doing so, Akbari draws attention not only to the film as a representation (the actors play characters playing roles), but more importantly, she establishes an open dialogue between the person we long to be, the person we have constructed for ourselves, and the person we are expected to be.