On the morning of her ninth birthday, a little girl awakens to the surprising news that she's now a woman, a rite of passage that ironically robs her of the broad privileges of childhood, such as wearing her hair uncovered or playing on the beach with the boys. So begins Marzieh Meshkini's aptly titled The Day I Became A Woman, a profound and stunningly lyrical story cycle about the stages of Iranian womanhood and its inherent limitations on freedom and equality. Cleverly conceived as three short films in order to elude government censors, it addresses the controversial issues broached recently by Tahmine Milani's Two Women and Jafar Panahi's The Circle, but without their didacticism. Based on a script by her husband, the brilliant Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Bread And The Vase), Meshkini's accomplished debut progresses in time from the austere naturalism commonly associated with Iranian cinema to the inspired comic surrealism of its conclusion. Set against the sumptuous seaside backdrop of Kish Islands, the triptych starts with the open, innocent face of a girl (Fatemeh Cherag Akhar) thrust into womanhood on her birthday. Panicked by her overnight induction, she negotiates an hour of playtime with her male friend, enjoying a last gasp of unfettered childhood before entering into the lifelong rigors of maturity. The second and most powerful segment shifts into more allegorical territory, as a young woman (Shabnam Toloui) attempts to reclaim her freedom in a bicycle race, pedaling furiously to escape her former life. (It's worth noting that women are forbidden to ride bicycles in Tehran.) As the race wears on, she's chased on horseback by her husband, her family, and members of her village, who beg her to stop and spare them from dishonor. In the final tale, an elderly matron (Azizeh Sedighi) lands at the airport with a fistful of cash and hires a procession of boys to cart a shopping spree's worth of furniture and appliances to the local beach. Once her absurd consumer paradise is laid out on the sand, she has no clue how to use—much less enjoy—her shiny new possessions. All told, the three loosely connected stories in The Day I Became A Woman are impressively varied in approach, but taken together, they constitute a single journey through the life of an Iranian woman. Meshkini's critique of patriarchal traditions doesn't cast men as oppressors or villains, but gains force from her stark symbolism and lush, suggestive imagery. In every stage, her women strive for a taste of freedom, but by the end of the life cycle, even that begins to look like stifling domestication.