Women Without Men
(15) 100 Mins
Director Sherin Neshat made her name as an artist, mainly in the area of photography, who carefully exploited Islamic gender issues. Women Without Men, her cinematic debut, started life as a visual installation, and the finished product places Neshat alongside Steve McQueen and Douglas Gordon as artists who have recently made a successful transition from gallery to picture house.
Based loosely on a magical realist novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, the action takes places during Iran in August 1953 when, in an Anglo-American supported coup d’etat, the Shah was installed as supreme ruler in place of Mohammed Mossadegh’s democratically elected government. The director’s ability to conjure up metaphor and allegories, both visual and narrative, is used here to ensure that while the action ostensibly takes place in 1953, it’s also a comment on present-day Iran and the Middle East, where Anglo-American activities still dictate daily life.
The five female protagonists in the novel have been reduced to four. Delta star Orsi Toth plays a fleeing prostitute who finds refuge in a public bath. 30-year old Munis (Shabnam Tolouei) is unmarried, to the chagrin of her brother, and spends her days glued to the radio listening to the news. Fazeh (Pegah Ferydoni) wants to marry Munis’ brother but instead joins an underground communist group. The oldest woman, Fakhri, (Arita Shahrzad) is married to an ungrateful general and when an old flame returns to Tehran she leaves her husband and buys an orchid, towards which the characters gravitate.
Although uneven in patches, this is a pertinent work on female resilience, made with an array of images painstakingly constructed for insightful social, political and artistic commentary.