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My Favourite Cake (Keyke Mahboobe Man)

Seventy-year-old widow from Iran seeks love and affection in a society that blatantly denies women autonomy, freedom and the simple pleasures of life - gently subversive drama premieres in the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival


Old age sucks, particularly if you are a widow in Iran. Mahin (Lily Farhadpour) lives in a large and comfortable in Tehran, but struggles to get out of bed before 12:00. The plants are her biggest source of company. Her children moved abroad decades earlier and they barely have the time for a videocall with their mother, who’s keen to exhibit the duvet that she gingerly knitted for her grandchildren. Mahin enjoys spending time with her female friends, reminiscing about the good ol’ days, and considering the prospect of finding a new boyfriend/husband. Despite the ingenuous, jocular tone, these conversations are very transgressive. The idea that women should have control over their lives, or – worse still – that they could be proactive in seeking a relationship, is almost unthinkable.

With old age come health challenges. Mahin’s children give their mother a blood pressure monitor as a “gift”, in a very questionable display of tender loving care. Mahin’s friend Pouran finds pleasure is sharing the morbid details of her cancer with the other woman, in an apparent outburst of Munchausen syndrome. She insists that they watch a video of her colonoscopy and witness how her polyps grew into something far more sinister, in one of the many hilarious conversations that dot the movie. Mahin later learns that a stop at the pharmacy is a casual requirement for men in their seventies, particularly if they have a promising night ahead with a person of the opposite sex.

The charmingly plump Mahin has an irresistible smile, a softly contagious laughter and a latent joie-de-vivre. Randy granny wants to find a partner so she can finally wear the outfits that have been left untouched on her closet since her husband tragically passed away in a car accident 30 years earlier. Someone who appreciates her cooking skills, and with whom she can share her favourite orange cake. She fondly remembers the days before the Revolution, when women did not have to cover their hair, and could wear as much make-up as they like. She adds a little colour to her face in an attempt to rekindle her dormant youth. She goes out in the local park encouraging young women to confront the much-feared Vice Squad (the men-led police that enforces the government’s strict dress code on women), while also searching for a loving partner around her age. She eventually invites an avuncular, shy and heavily-moustached taxi driver to her house. His name is Faramarz (Esmail Mehrabi).

The second half of the film takes place almost entirely inside her house, as Mahin and Faramaz gradually overcome the little barriers that keep them apart. She almost immediately removes her scarf and invites the male for a drink (in a country where alcohol is prohibited). She serves him homemade red wine, so thick it resembles redcurrant syrup – a drink guaranteed to cause immediate liver poisoning. Mahin reveals that she used to buy grapes and invite friends to stomp them with their feet, then leaving the liquid to ferment in secret underground compartment in the ground. She knows the secret for keeping the much coveted fluid palatable. She has kept certain pieces of knowledge from her youth just as well preserved as her dresses. And she now wants to put them to use!

A combination of beautiful dresses, wine, music and dance is certain to succeed. Yes, but with a little patience. Despite Mahin’s advances, it is never easy for two two elderly people in such a conservative society to open up too quickly. Plus, they have to contend with nosy neighbours who may call the Squad upon hearing a male voice coming from the house. It is both hilarious and heartwarming to watch the two lovebirds gradually shedding their inhibitions. Two brief sequences – one in the shower and one in bed – combine the comedic with the tragic to outstanding results. Despite being largely predictable, the ending is still very poignant. A heartwarming tale about the incessant desire to love, and the quest for freedom in the smallest and most trivial gestures. And a love letter to Iranian women – young and old – who are hungry for love.

My Favourite Cake just premiered in the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. The Iranian government banned the directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha from attending the event. The directing duo previously faced charges related to their debut feature Ballad Of A White Cow, which showed three years ago at the Berlinale. Following intense domestic pressure, the regime eventually withdrew the accusations.

By Victor Fraga - 16-02-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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