Iranian films are so beguiling; watching them slowly unspool before our eyes, we are transported to a world where the emphasis is always upon everyday people (usually children) struggling with emotions, restrictions, or some yearning that has seized their souls. There is no need for speeded-up action sequences or special effects wizardry since these are stories about the human heart and all of its turnings.

Marzieh Meshkini's enchanting and sensuous film is a parable of three stages in the lives of Iranian women. It is a classic that will have universal appeal and special poignancy for women's groups who decide to use it as a resource to raise consciousness.

The first vignette centers around Havva (Fatemeh Cheragh Akhtar), a lively and stubborn girl whose childhood of freedom and independence is about to come to an end according to her family's understanding of Islamic law. Beginning at noon, the time of her birth nine years ago, she must cloak herself in a chador (a loose cloak covering her from head to toe) and curtail her close friendship with an orphan boy.

But first, Havva tells her grandmother and mother, she wants to go out and play one last time. The little girl is given a stick to put in the sand in order to measure the sun's shadow and determine the appointed hour of her return. On the beach, she trades her scarf for a fish toy to some boys who use it as a sail for their makeshift vessel. Then she a lollipop with her buddy who has been locked in his room to do homework. Havva relishes every last moment of her childhood and in the true spirit of feminine spirituality, she lavishes her attention and joy on others.

The second story revolves around Ahoo (Shabnam Toloui), a young wife who is participating in a bicycle race with other women on a path that follows the seashore. It is a visually startling sight — a large group of chador-covered figures seen close up and from the distance riding together, pushing past each other, slowing down, resting, and then speeding up again.

Ahoo's angry husband appears on a horse and orders her to leave the race or he will divorce her. She defies his order and then is harassed by other tribesmen, by the mullah, and finally by her brothers. As stubborn as Havva, she refuses to heed the warnings and threats of the men who want her to obey her husband. Finally, Ahoo is compelled to stop riding her bike. Force, as happens so often in the case of women, carries the day.

The third and final drama centers on an elderly and bent woman (Azizeh Seddighi) arrives via plane to the same seaside area. With plenty of money from an inheritance, she hires a boy to push her in a wheelchair to a very modern shopping mall where she purchases all the appliances, furniture, and other goodies her heart desires. Before long they are followed by a host of children carrying all her packages. They take all these things to the beach where the old woman has them unpacked so she can find out what she has forgotten. When she and the boy return to the mall to exchange a teapot, the other kids on the beach have a ball playing with all the appliances.

In the end, the elderly woman has the means to fulfill all her yearnings but it is too late in life to do anything with all the accoutrements of Western success. In fact, the one concern that obsesses her is how her rooster will survive without the food and water she forgot to give him. When her new possessions are finally put aboard some rafts to be transported to her home, little Havva stands on the shore watching with her grandmother and mother. Perhaps the old woman is an emblem of her own yearning or a vision of what her life will be like in the future. Either way, these three brief but poignant dramas will steal your heart with their unique mix of unvarnished simplicity and metaphoric richness.

Special features on the DVD include an audio commentary by Richard Pena; an original critical essay by Shirin Neshat; and a photo gallery.