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A traditional father locks away his twin daughters in an effort to preserve their innocence before marriage, but gets a taste of his own medicine when a social worker places him and his wife behind bars and allows the two girls to experience the world for themselves.

★★★★★

You would have expected scenes of national rejoicing after Iran beat Australia to qualify for the 1998 World Cup. But what made those scenes in Tehran so exceptional was that it was the country's subservient female population who demonstrated the most enthusiasm. Indeed, several thousand women even broke Muslim law by entering the national stadium to acclaim their heroes.

In its own quiet way, Makhmalbaf's auspicious feature debut echoes that sense of rebellion not only against such sexual discrimination, but also against all forms of inequality and injustice. Such a stance would be remarkable in any film produced inside the Islamic republic but nigh on everything else about this docudrama is out of the ordinary. Its director was just 17 when it was made, while its principal players are the actual characters who were involved in the welfare scandal that rocked the country.

Eleven-year-old twins Zahra and Massoumeh Naderi have been hidden from the world since birth, as their old-fashioned father, Ghorbanali, insists they remain pure before marriage. But the local social worker (Saghri) is a progressive, so locks Ghorbanali and his blind wife behind the bars of the humble home and sends the girls out to discover the world.

Although there's no denying the freshness of Makhmalbaf's direction, it would be fascinating to know how much assistance she received from her famous father, Moshen, who has produced such similar realist studies of poverty as The Peddlar. Reliving his shame and regret, the wizened elder Naderi gives an outstanding performance. But for all their naturalness before the camera as they steal ice creams and play hopscotch, there's a lingering suspicion that the acutely unworldly Zahra and Massoumeh have been ever so slightly exploited.

Fresh directing and excellent natural performances make this story disturbingly real.

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