Last night I finally watched Shirin Neshat‘s film, Women Without Men. It was one of those films where I wanted to watch it again as soon as I was finished in order to gain more understanding. Neshat’s background is in fine art, which makes her decision to create a narrative feature length film very intriguing. She is Iranian born, but left in 1979 to attend college in the US. This was around the time of the Islamic Revolution which drastically changed the culture in Iran.
She first gained notoriety for her photography series Women of Allah which she created from 1993-1997 after a visit to Iran. The women have writing on their bodies, and they are often taken from feminist poets and writers.
The film is an adaptation of a 1989 novel by Shahrnush Parsipur and is the story of four women in Tehran in 1953 during the American-backed Coup that placed the Shah back in power.
The images in the film are beautiful and highlight the feminist undercurrents that exist in Neshat’s work. Each woman in the film struggles to find freedom in their life and end up together on an orchard. The film brings forward the plight of women in a conservative society. The character I cannot get out of my head is Zarin, an anorexic prostitute who never utters a word throughout the film, yet I connected with her the most. Her presence was haunting, grotesque, and then serene.
Neshat says this about her from an interview:
“There’s her issue with the body, and the question of her loneliness and alienation—the fact that she always came across as if she was a woman that was never meant to belong to this planet but somehow she had to cope with it… The most important thing to me is her relationship to her body, in the way that she punishes herself for everything that is wrong with the world. …this is very much of a woman issue: You basically self-inflict to cope with everything that is wrong in the world. Oddly enough, the one that is the most sinful [the prostitute] becomes the most spiritual. We have a saying, that the mystics, the dervishes in our Sufi tradition, are the people that suffer the most, and because they’re so tortured, they turn into spiritual beings. Zarin, who is the most tortured, becomes the most spiritual and the most compassionate in the way that she impacts the other women’s lives. It’s her spirituality and otherworldliness that I like. The last thing, also, is that Zarin never speaks in the entire film, but you always understand her.”