Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan) Reviews
In Women Without Men debut director Shirin Neshat cleverly uses her photographic roots to exquisite effect. Viewers will undoubtedly notice the stunning art she creates on the screen, as the four leading actresses are framed in an almost melancholy beauty that represents their struggle as women during the turbulent 1950s in Iran. As such the film has a strong political context and successfully recreates an era in Iranian history that is often overlooked in favour of the even more troubled years that followed.
However this is not your standard political drama. Neshat's preference to depict the film entirely through female eyes sets it apart immediately. Each woman has her own story, from the depressed wife of a military official to an anorexic prostitute, however almost predictably these women share a bond of having been mistreated in some way by men. Thus the women find solace and companionship in a beautiful orchard and the film, steeped in rich cinematic beauty, develops from there.
Unfortunately while the premise appears promising, Neshat's inexperience as a director is quickly exposed as the story crawls at a ridiculously slow pace. Time spent on lingering photographic shots and extended periods without dialogue have replaced scenes that could have fleshed out these sparse characters and given the audience women they could perhaps relate to, or at least care about. Regrettably none of the characters, though each well played, managed to spark much of a reaction in me, proving a major flaw in giving any weight to the drama on show.
Furthermore there are a number of moments where the film experiments with the supernatural; a risky move that leads primarily to confusion. While I eventually picked up the gist of what was happening in these scenes, Neshat does not make it easy for her audience to follow such events, and unless you embark on this film with a lot of patience and a certain level of intellect, then you may find it a rather restless 90 minutes.
Thus while visually brilliant and politically resonant, Women Without Men's accomplishments are marred by an underdeveloped plot and unfortunately thin characters.
"Women without Men" gets off to a slow start but gains steam and a visual flair once it not only escapes from its social realist origins to tell its story from a magic realism angle, but also as the female characters are escaping from their roles. Zarin runs away from the brothel to the country while Fakhri herself runs away and buys an orchard. Munis' escape is the most drastic but it is also not the end of her story, as rebirth in both a literal and a symbolic sense is a major theme of the movie as Iran is born again in a revolution(I love that a Communist is portrayed in a positive light), just not one with a happy ending this time around for the country.
(Originally reviewed May 16, 2010)
Symbolism and pure, stylish photography offer an interesting and unique vision of intimate life stories amidst a more historical background.
Slow, contemplative film, though, so only for hardcore cinephiles or those interested in Iranian American Shirin Neshat's personal artwork/artworld.