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'Khastegi': Iranian Film Delves Into Modern-Day Transsexual World

Organizers of the Venice Film Festival waited to announce the Iranian film "Khastegi," or "Tedium," by first-time Iranian director Bahman Motamedian until the last minute to avoid alerting authorities to its sensitive subject: transsexuals in modern-day Iran.

The struggles of seven transsexuals depicted in the film are made more complicated by Iran's strict gender codes and cultural obstacles. But filmmaker Motamedian, who is best known in Iran for theater work, insists the problems they face are universal to transsexuals anywhere in the world: finding their identity and seeking acceptance from their families.

"We know that throughout the world this problems exists," Motamedian said. "The idea was to raise awareness among families especially, because this is the first layer of barrier, and to help people to realize they are not alone and be able to face the problem."

Motamedian said he was inspired by the Italian neo-realists in his film-making, and for the movie he cast actual transsexuals, not professional actors, to act a role that he created.

"The cast I worked with had no cinematic training, which I though would be useful to access things that a professional actor wouldn't be capable," Motamedian said. "Usually an actor is trained to show things. I thought it was important to show what a person was hiding," Motamedian told a news conference on Friday."

The movie delves into the lives of seven transsexuals — six male-to-female transsexuals and one female-to-male.

They struggle with the question of whether a transsexual can find true romantic love, whether or not to go through with a sex change operation, how to tell their families — and in one case, a wife — and whether or not to remain in Iran.

Motamedian said the most difficult casting was for Shiva, the female-to-male transsexual.

"Right up to the day of shooting I hadn't found a suitable character to play that role ... and I even thought about cutting her out," Motamedian said. "As it is a very masculine and male-oriented society, the thought of really coming out and revealing that fact they wanted to come out and revealing they are not a 'real' male ... has real problems. All of the women I met who wanted to be male didn't want this to be known, for them it was a real problem coming out."

The dilemma is illustrated in one scene when Shiva, working as a taxi driver, is asked by a police officer to show his license, which identifies him as a woman. The officer's first question is where her veil is, and Shiva speeds off when he refuses to return the license.

Perhaps the most revealing scene is at the end, when one of the transsexuals says she would never consider a sex change operation while living in Iran, because of all of the limits on female freedom in his country.

Motamedian said the film was made without going through official channels to get permission — meaning that they did without government financial support. But it also means the film won't be shown in Iran.

"Tedium" is being shown out of competition.