Berlinale Bloggers 2023
Resisting the Patriarchy to the Last

Reyhaneh Jabbari in: “Seven Winters in Tehran“. Director: Steffi Niederzoll
Reyhaneh Jabbari in: “Seven Winters in Tehran“. Director: Steffi Niederzoll | Photo (detail): © Made in Germany

“Seven Winters” in Tehran very impressively documents the fate of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young Iranian student who was executed in 2014.

By Philipp Bühler

This year, the Berlinale management have once again shown their solidarity with Iranian filmmakers. The age of glamorous galas and accolades for grand films is over, leaving behind an uneasy feeling. Seven Winters in Tehran shows what’s really going on in Iran, where people are now taking to the streets for “Women, Life, Freedom”. Everyone knew about this tragedy, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

A harrowing documentary

The case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 1987 born Iranian student who was executed in 2014, was widely covered in the international press and sparked worldwide outrage. Reyhaneh was 19 when she defended herself against a rapist, a former secret service agent, and stabbed him to death. Steffi Niederzoll’s documentary presents Reyhaneh’s letters from prison as well as video footage, which her family entrusted to the German filmmaker. The prisoner tells of beatings and threats, but also of the solidarity shown by fellow women inmates, a number of whom have been forced into prostitution by their own families. But the real drama begins after the death sentence is pronounced: Given that Reyhaneh was sentenced under the Islamic sharia law of “blood vengeance”, so her life could be spared by the victim’s family. But only if she were to retract the accusation of rape, which she refused to do – thereby sealing her fate.

Seven Winters in Tehran is the opener for the Berlinale’s up-and-coming Perspektive Deutsches Kino section, which is headed this year for the first time by Jenni Zylka, a German writer and film critic. Her focus is on documentary formats and the plight of women around the world. Engin Kundağ’s Ararat, for example, is about a young woman who flees to Turkey after what may have been an intentional car crash. In Milena Aboyan’s Elaha, a 22-year-old German-Kurdish woman faces the almost insurmountable task of “restoring her virginity” before her wedding. But of all these critiques of patriarchal norms of male dominance, Seven Winters in Tehran is bound to get the most attention. It is a powerful testimony to the desperate resistance put up not only by Reyhaneh Jabbari herself, but by her family, too, who accepted her decision and are still fighting to rehabilitate her posthumous reputation to this day. Her mother, Shole, and two sisters managed to escape to Berlin. Her father, Fereydoon, is still stuck in Iran, living in fear of reprisals.