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the not so little
black dress

 
 

shirin neshat

   

 

The first feature-length film, Women Without Men, 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.

 

Magic 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 Parsipurís novel 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 and artist.

 

 

Neshat is a virtuoso of the haunting beautiful image, and came to fame with her 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.

 

Then there were her video installations, Turbulent(1998), Rapture (1999), and Fervor (2000), all split-screened and gorgeous, meditations on the relationship between men and women.  In Turbulent (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 Women Without Men.

 

Women Without Men 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....

 

See: Women Without Men

 

See: The Trailer, Women Without Men

 

Read: Women Without Men, A Novel of Modern Iran, Shahrnush Parsipur

 

Watch on YouTube: Turbulent

 

Tags: film  literature  politics  books  iran

 

   

 

 


Shirin Neshat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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