Location: The Maltings Henry Travers Studio
Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Ukraine, Morocco
/ 2009 / 95 min / Cert. 15
Based on a 1989 novel of the same name by Shahrnush Parsipur, Shirin Neshat first took inspiration from the book for a series of video installations, before adapting it into her debut feature, Women Without Men.
Both book and film tell the story of four women’s lives, set against the backdrop of Iran’s 1953 CIA-backed coup d’etat, through which their destinies converge. The four Tehran heroines are Munis, a young single woman with an interest in what is happening on the streets, but whose brother wants her to stay indoors, marry and live a conservative Muslim life; Her friend Faezeh who is more naïve, and wishes for a conservative and Muslim life; Fakhri who is the discontented wife of a general who rethinks her life when an old flame introduces her to Tehran café society; and Zarin, a prostitute who starts to experience a breakdown when she looks up to see that a client's face is totally featureless.
The film mixes so-called realistic scenes of downtown Tehran, shot in almost black and white, in which men rule, and protest, with the magical realism of a metaphorical orchard garden, shot in brilliant colour, and in which the four female characters find independence, solace and companionship.
Women without Men was shot in Morocco, with Casablanca doubling for 1950s Tehran, on account of director Neshat being banned from her home country in 1996 as a dissident artist. She made the film in Casablanca with her collaborator and husband Shoja Azari, also a New York-based artist and filmmaker, with whom she shares the writing credit.
“Every frame of Women Without Men and every image within those frames attest to the background of its first-time director, Shirin Neshat, as a photographer celebrated for her explorations of Islamic gender issues… [A] visually transfixing film…”
- Stephen Holden, New York Times