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Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men

by Sara Saljoughi Women Without Men (Zanaan-e bedun-e mardan) has two screenings as part of the Walker’s Views from Iran series:  April 16th at 7:30 pm and April 17th at 7:30 pm. The film will be introduced by director Shirin Neshat and collaborator Shoja Azari on April 16. The screening will be followed by a […]

by Sara Saljoughi

Women Without Men (Zanaan-e bedun-e mardan) has two screenings as part of the Walker’s Views from Iran series:  April 16th at 7:30 pm and April 17th at 7:30 pm. The film will be introduced by director Shirin Neshat and collaborator Shoja Azari on April 16. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the artists.

Shirin Neshat’s first feature film is an adaptation of Iranian novelist Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel, Women without Men.  Neshat’s fascination with Parsipur’s novel and her own exploration of the literary work’s intrinsic visual qualities were evident in her Zarin Series (2005), a collection of photographs inspired by one of the novel and film’s main characters, Zarin.  Women without Men hones in on the life of four women – Zarin, Faezeh, Munis and Fakhri – in one of the most politically tumultuous times in modern Iranian history, the 1953 CIA-backed coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Neshat’s adaptation of Parsipur’s novel manages to perform a striking interpretation of the written work’s elements of magical realism, something that Parsipur has continued with her latest novel Men from Various Civilizations.

The film’s muted palette, which is at moments reminiscent of Kodachrome photographs, takes us away from “realism,” something which has almost come to be expected from Iranian filmmakers, into a world that is seemingly discordant with the one we know, both in the realm of the physical and the emotive.

The visual interpretation of Parsipur’s fantastical world is evoked from the film’s earliest moments. We hear a woman’s voice say, “Now I’ll have silence, silence and nothing. And I thought, the only freedom from pain is to be free from the world,” while the camera follows a stream into one of the film’s most important spaces, a metaphorical orchard. The world from which the woman (who we later know as Munis) seeks to be free is not the ruddy, wet earth and blooming trees of the orchard, but the walls and interiors of life in Tehran, the world of men and women.

Like other films in the Views from Iran series, Women without Men employs a marginal space removed from the characters’ usual habitat; the orchard is a space of healing, regeneration and quiet away from the chaos of the political changes gripping the country and the demands on each of the four women.

In the summer of 2009 Women without Men won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival while the first rumblings of what could become great political change occurred yet again in Iran. In photographs from the festival, Neshat and members of the cast (including Parsipur, who has a great cameo as the madam of a brothel) stood on the red carpet, their green bracelets poignantly reaching out in solidarity with the protestors in Iran.

Neshat’s adaptation of Women without Men is significant because it provides a compelling psychological account of a moment in history, via the experiences of women, against the backdrop of great events.

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Sara Saljoughi is a graduate student in Comparative Studies in Discourse & Society at the U of M. Her areas of research are cinema, critical theory, Iranian studies and postcolonial theory. She has published film and music reviews in Exclaim!, Broken Pencil and Foxy Digitalis. She blogs at http://sarainamerica.blogspot.com/

  • Jesse Leaneagh says:

    Dear Film/Video,

    Wanted to say that the programs designed for and handed out at this screening were hands-down the most useful and relevant for any event I’ve seen at the Walker. For attendees like myself – ignorant of pertinent Iranian history- the programs provided in 5 minutes enough info to not only enrich the movie experience but transform it. Neshat herself complimented the programs, but I wanted to second this sentiment.

    It was truly a privilege to be able to see Women Without Men. For a film presenting a tableau of “historical magic realism”, it’s hard to imagine more politically urgent programming at the Walker this year. Thanks for bringing Neshat and her film.

  • Alfred Kaye says:

    Dear Shirin Neshat,

    I enjoyed watching your screening of Women Withou Men at the Walker in Minneapolis on April 16. Also, the discussion afterwards was very interesting. I was the one in the sudience who asked you about a person having within himself or herself the two cultures, the Eastern and the Western and reconciling them. Fascinating.