Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when society applies inordinate pressure on women in this regard (East and West similarly, although in completely different ways), then identity is equated with something that is destined to perish.
It is on this difference between inner and outer beauty that Mania Akbari’s feature, One.Two.One (2011), focuses. Ava is a young, attractive Iranian woman whose face has been disfigured as the result of an accident. Part of her healing process will be as much about accepting herself anew, as coming to terms with the prejudices and stigmatisation her disfigurement provokes in her society. Structured as a series of sketches that have one, two or at most three characters in them, Ava’s healing is depicted as both physical (a visit to a beauty clinic) and psychological (visits to a psychiatrist and a fortune teller).
Just as powerful as the pressure of maintaining a certain standard of femininity and beauty in the Middle East – characters confide their concerns regarding Ava’s future – are the constraints of actually concealing this beauty. What was important for Akbari was to offer another image of beauty by getting very close to the skin. ‘For me the skin is one of the most profound parts of the human anatomy. When you get close to somebody’s skin you actually get close to that person. You can deduce everything about that person from their skin. In my society the idea of beauty has become a bit damaged, and the protagonist is a manifestation of this’.
In Akbari’s film, this hide-and-seek with regard to the female face – in this case, a damaged one – is explored by means of camera angles framing and fragmenting the protagonist’s face. She is either filmed sideways revealing the undamaged part of her face, or from the front, with an eye-patch covering the healing wound. Clearly, making yourself look beautiful does not equate to feeling beautiful; and the protagonist’s ordeal with physical disfigurement is obviously reminiscent of Akbari’s own struggle with the destructive repercussions of breast cancer.
Rhythm is key in Akbari’s work, modulating and structuring everything, especially in One.Two.One. This is most obviously conveyed by the palindrome in the title itself, which literally reflects Ava’s movement between lovers (one young, the other more mature) as she recovers her self-confidence; but most effectively by the dialogue, which is as musical as a lullaby. The cadence of the words and sentences – regardless of our in/ability to understand Farsi – creates mesmerising aural patterns.