Our Uniform (2023) Short Film Review

Our Uniform (2023)
Director: Yegane Moghaddam
Screenwriter: Yegane Moghaddam
Starring: Yegane Moghaddam

Yegane Moghaddam’s very personal Oscar-nominated animated short film Our Uniform is perhaps this awards season’s most traditionally authored project. The Iranian filmmaker’s respectful but pointed commentary on the place of women in Iranian society is a unique insight into the perspectives of those growing up in a culture that doesn’t support their freedom of choice or their aspirations.

The 7-minute short begins with the following disclaimer: “This film is not critizing “Hijab” and the people who wear it. It’s a mere depiction of schools in Iran, where full Hijab is mandatory.”

This is a statement made with good intent, an attempt to not ruffle too many feathers, but the film itself is one that tells of the freedom that comes with being released from the shackles of such a rigid system. Presumably recounting the filmmaker’s own journey from Iran to the United States, we are told in voiceover by Moghaddam herself how she fought the strict rules of appearance at school and found her best self away from the restrictions once she flew across continents to her new home. The Hijab is not under attack by any means, but she tells us that the society that imposes strict rules surrounding the Hijab is, so you might be left wishing for more of a renegade stance by the film’s end.

It’s an animated short told through a mix of live-action photography, stop-motion, and more traditional 2D animation. These crossovers in style gift this Oscars nominee a unique palette, which is of course appropriate given its themes of self-expression and the realisation of self in conjunction with other elements of design: clothing, hair, and so on. Each frame is set upon a piece of material – jeans, a shirt, etc. – with traditionally animated characters interacting with the clothes through stop motion. There are some profound moments born of this method, not least when Moghaddam expresses the joy of the moment she went swimming in a swimming costume in public, the animated representation of herself diving from the sleeve of a shirt and into the skin of her arm. The hairs of the arm stand on end in perhaps the most joyous expression of self-realisation of any short film nominated in 2024.

There is a distinct element of artistry to the formula through which all of this is told visually, but in terms of dialogue the film is much more by the numbers. Our Uniform is akin to a documentary in how it is told in full voiceover and clearly recounts events that are in a sense real if not exactly true. The voiceover work is as effective as you might expect of someone telling their own story, of course, but that is also lacking in the type of potency you might wish for from such a presentation. Together with the opening disclaimer, this voiceover work paints an overall picture that is less clenched fist empowerment and more “isn’t that nice?” The attempts to not ruffle too many feathers ultimately undermine a quite revolutionary idea, as well as the great artistry and animation that bring it to life.

It is clear to see the appeal that Yegane Moghaddam’s animated short had to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ahead of its nomination at the 96th Academy Awards: it expresses how clothes can define people, therefore it is pro-commercialism, and it has some anti-authoritarian themes and ideals that never cross the line into the realms of testing or controversial. It makes the most of the animated form by crossing dimensions and styles, and ensures each is given purpose within its visual narrative. But this is a film that is more interesting and well-conceived than it is heart-pounding or teary. Whether you remember this beyond this year’s Oscars season will ultimately come down to who you are and what you find important.

Score: 15/24

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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