Women Without Men
Director: Shirin Neshat
Stars: Shabnam Toloui, Pegah Ferydoni, Arita Shahrzad, Orsolya Tóth
Women Without Men is a 2009 film directed by Shirin Neshat and adapted from Shahrnush Parsipur’s 1989 novel. It offers a poignant glimpse at the lead up to Iran’s 1953 Moseddegh coup d’état through the eyes and bodies of four women in Tehran who are at the centre of resistance and oppression. Munis, a woman more concerned with listening to politics on the radio than she is finding a suitor much to the dismay of her older brother, Faezeh, her friend who is in love with Munis’ brother and wants to become a wife, Farrokhlagha, a wealthy married wife of a General hoping to leave her controlling husband for a life of her own, and Zarin, a woman forced into sex-work who has become resigned to her oppression. Whilst plot and narrative sometimes falter, Neshat skilfully threads each woman’s situation together, despite difference in wealth, age and severity, to show the wider political tapestry of Iran.
Martin Gschlacht’s 35MM cinematography offers something of a hypnosis effect: even through harrowing scenes of Zarin scrubbing her body till it bleeds to rid herself of the men that had forced themselves upon her, it’s hard to look away from the heart-breaking beauty of the shots and the patient camera angles and movements. He uses the beauty of nature against grey concrete shots of Tehran city to create a juxtaposition of peace and disruption.
Women Without Men is a tribute to the utter desperation these women felt to get away from the men in their lives, and the patriarchal society they live in. Just as Munis says as she contemplates taking her own life “All that we wanted was to find a new form”, the horrifying reality is that they didn’t want life to end, but the life they had been forced to live.
Shahrnush Parsipur’s imprisonment for speaking about these women’s stories in the novel is a true telling of just how threatened the world feels when women share their own experiences, and why films like this should keep telling them.
Tyneside Cinema’s ‘Iranian Journeys’ season will continue until Sunday 4th September, showing films that highlight the journeys taken in Iranian cinema.