from visual artist Shirin Neshat (who is probably the most famous
contemporary artist to emerge from Iran--she was born there, but
lives and works in New York), and which won the Silver Lion
in Venice, is now showing in town and we think is a must-see for
its hallucinatory beauty.
realism, surrealistic touches, allegory: all trademarks of modern
Iranian cinema, but here the strong compositions, exquisite
framing, subtle coloration, and lyrical visual sense separate it
from the rest of the field, make the film feel like a sumptuous
dream of Tehran in the 1950s. The film is based on Shahrnush
of the same
name: it is August 1953, and the Anglo-American coup that
installed the Shah and removed the democratically-elected
Mossadegh is the backdrop for the more personal stories.
There is Munis, who is politically engaged and yearns to be free
but lives under the dominating control of a fundamentalist
brother; Faezeh, her friend, who is in love with her brother;
Zarin, an anorexic prostitute who runs away; and Fakhri, who is
unhappily married and finds the courage to leave her husband and
buy a beautiful old orchard on the outskirts of Tehran. The
farmhouse and wild garden become a symbolic or mystical place of
refuge where all the stories weave together, seamlessly
integrating classes and backgrounds. Neshat has said that
she is not a feminist, that she is instead sympathetic to the
situation of women and uses their oppression as a means to cast a
certain light on the larger political structure. Itís a
conceptual take, and always, from the vantage point of the exile
Neshat is a
virtuoso of the haunting beautiful image, and came to fame with
Women of Allah
series (1993-1997), photographs with pen and ink (poetry or
religious text), subversive commentary on post-Revolutionary life
in Iran, all marked by the same incandescent aesthetic sense.
were her video installations,
Rapture (1999), and Fervor (2000), all split-screened and gorgeous,
meditations on the relationship between men and women. In
(click to watch), a male singer gives voice to lines from Rumi,
his audience is composed of only men. It is all very lovely.
And then, suddenly, a rapturous abstract outpouring of song from
the other half of the screen: a woman in a black chador who stands alone in front of
empty chairs (for women are not allowed to sing publicly).
The man listening as if in silent reaction to the strange song. What
remains is the split screen, this apartheid that still exists in
large swathes of the Islamic world. A divide that here
encompasses a certain competitiveness as well (who sings the
more powerful song? or is it that women just sing different songs?),
that old battle of the sexes, but expressed with such a
consciousness for beauty that any one-upmanship is made charming, the statement is tempered, made art.
The man in the video is, after all, Shoja Azari, Shirin Neshatís
partner in life as well as Collaborating Director of
was shot in Morocco (Casablanca is Tehran!) and is not able to be
shown publicly in Iran. Neshat recently told The New York Times
that she was 'delighted' that the film was being distributed
illegally in Iran....
Women Without Men
Men, A Novel of Modern Iran, Shahrnush Parsipur
Watch on YouTube: