Movie review: In ‘Women Without Men’ stunning visuals trump storytelling
For renowned Iranian-born feminist Shirin Neshat, being a gifted photographer and visual artist does not necessarily equate to being a talented storyteller.
That becomes apparent in watching her freshman feature film, “Women Without Men,” an artful, ambitious work that’s visually stunning and politically impassioned yet narratively inert.
Strident, didactic and relentlessly morose, Neshat’s story – drawn from Shahrnush Parsipur’s banned-in-Iran feminist novel of the same name – is clearly a work of forceful political intent more than sheer artistic motive. Nashat and her husband and co-director-writer Shoja Azari employ starkly telling imagery and many brilliantly inventive compositions in service of an earnest but abstract treatise on Middle Eastern feminist politics.
The result, from a storytelling perspective, is oddly clumsy, incoherent and uninvolving.
“Women Without Men” (in Persian with subtitles) is set in a volatile Iran, circa 1953, as the CIA-engineered ouster of the country’s elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh leads to installation of the shah as the nation’s dictator.
Tumultuous events revolve around the travails of four loosely connected women of vastly different social strata, each pushing back against the brutal tyranny of religion-dictated male oppression.
The story opens with the suicide of Munis (Shabnam Tolouei), a fiercely intelligent, politically aware 30-year-old woman buckling under the furious taunts of her bullying, religiously zealous brother.
As this tragedy unfolds, we also meet Fakhri (Arita Shahrzad), the cultured upper-class wife of a general (Tahmoures Tehrani) who is supporting the shah. Rebuked by her husband for her waning sexual allure, Fakhri runs away and purchases an idyllic orchard on the outskirts of Tehran – a mystical site of sylvan gardens and mist-shrouded ponds – and sets it up as a refuge and place of healing for troubled women.
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