Women Without Men”, One More Must See Film from Iran.

Women Without Men.

Women With­out Men.

Women With­out Men sounds like it could be one of those dull, edu­ca­tion­al chores. In fact, it’s a sump­tu­ous, rich­ly evoca­tive film that calls to mind the heady days of Ital­ian cin­e­ma in the1960s and ear­ly 70s.

Think late Vis­con­ti, De Sica’s The Gar­den of the Finzi Con­ti­nis (reviewed ear­li­er here) and the Taviani broth­ers. What if Bertoluc­ci had ever man­aged to use his tech­ni­cal bravu­ra to actu­al­ly say something.

Shirin Neshat, whose first film this is, has said that she was influ­enced by Kiarosta­mi when she decid­ed to make the move from con­cep­tu­al art into the world of fea­ture films. But she is very much part of that new wave of Iran­ian film mak­ers of Ash­gar Farha­di, who made A Sep­a­ra­tion and About Elly (reviewed here and here), and poor Jafar Panahi, (reviewed here), who, out­ra­geous­ly, remains under house arrest in Iran.

This Is Not A Film

Panahi’s This Is Not A Film.

Inter­est­ing­ly and unlike them, she is look­ing at Iran from the out­side, hav­ing lived most of her life as an exile in the US.

Neshat has tak­en Shahrnush Parisipur’s famous novel­la, which charts the lives of four women, and has posit­ed their sto­ries against the back­drop of the events of 1953. It was then that the British and the US joined forces to over­throw the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ment of Mosad­degh, and sup­plant him with a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship under the Shah, so the British could main­tain their con­trol of Iran’s oil supply.

Inevitably, indeed nec­es­sar­i­ly, rev­o­lu­tion fol­lowed 25 years lat­er. Imme­di­ate­ly after which, the same crowd armed and fund­ed Iraq in its war against Iran. And then they invad­ed Iraq, and then Afgan­istan, again, over yet more oil. And on it goes ad, patent­ly, infini­tum. Lit­tle won­der then that Iran looks at the West with such jaun­diced eyes.

Women Without Men.

Women With­out Men.

All of which could have result­ed in a painful­ly dull film, part his­tor­i­cal lec­ture, part fem­i­nist tract. But what Neshat has made instead is a mar­riage of mag­ic real­ism and exquis­ite, for­mal pre­ci­sion. The result is rav­ish­ing­ly beau­ti­ful and qui­et­ly mov­ing. Four female arche­types set against the back­drop of polit­i­cal tur­moil, in the face of which, resis­tance appears futile. And yet, resist they must.

It won the Sil­ver Lion at Venice in 2009 – in fair­ness, the Gold­en Lion went to the bril­liant Lebanon. You should see them both, and you can see the trail­er for Women With­out Men here.

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Jafar Panahi’s “This Is Not A Film”, Yet Another Iranian Triumph, Not

This Is Not A FilmIn late 2010 the gift­ed Iran­ian film mak­er Jafar Panahi was sen­tenced to six years in jail and for­bid­den from mak­ing films for 20 years.

Films of his, such as The Cir­cle from 2000 and Off­side from 2006, had sug­gest­ed that here was yet anoth­er Iran­ian film mak­er who seemed to have suc­cess­ful­ly found a way to gen­tly cri­tique the land of his birth, espe­cial­ly its atti­tude to women, but to do so in such a way that the author­i­ties were begrudg­ing­ly pre­pared to put up with. Not any more, alas.

Under house arrest, and for­bid­den from in any way being seen to make films, he invit­ed a film mak­er friend of his around to record a day in his life. Light­heart­ed­ly at first, he begins to act out the film that he’d hoped to be mak­ing. It’s a sto­ry of a girl impris­oned in her own home, for­bid­den by her tra­di­tion­al par­ents from leav­ing to pur­sue her stud­ies at university.

But as he tries to tell the film, that lev­i­ty evap­o­rates, and the hope­less­ness of his sit­u­a­tion begins to dawn on him. You can’t tell a film, that’s not what a film is. And sud­den­ly, the title’s no longer fun­ny or mis­chie­vous, but qui­et­ly trag­ic. He might nev­er make a film ever again.

Some­thing quite remark­able hap­pened to Iran­ian cin­e­ma about 20 years ago. Its nat­ur­al mode had always been that of neo­re­al­ism. So when we see the boy impa­tient­ly ask­ing an elder for direc­tions in Kiarostami’s Where Is The Friend’s Home from 1987, the old man con­tin­ues prepar­ing his pipe before stir­ring him­self to reply.

His face seems to say, empires rise and empires fall, but noth­ing ever real­ly changes, so I might as well enjoy my smoke before even­tu­al­ly address­ing your ques­tion – which by the way, and unsur­pris­ing­ly, I’ll not be able to help you with.

But in 1990 Kiarosta­mi made a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent kind of film, with the bril­liant if unchar­ac­ter­is­tic Close Up. It fol­lows a man who imper­son­ates anoth­er major Iran­ian film mak­er, Mohsan Makhmal­baf. But as you watch what appears to be a doc­u­men­tary, you real­ize that a lot of what you’re see­ing must in fact have been re-enact­ed. And the film’s sub­ject, truth and lies, is mir­rored by the form it takes to tell its sto­ry, as it becomes increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to untan­gle fact from fiction.

The fol­low­ing year, in ’91, he made a doc­u­men­tary cum fea­ture film about the actors from Where Is The Friend’s Home called Life And Noth­ing More. And in ’94 he made Through The Olive Trees, which was a film about the actors in that film, and the ten­sion between how they treat­ed one anoth­er on and off set. In oth­er words, he made a film, about a film, about a film.

Then in ’96, Makhmal­baf, he of Close Up, made a remark­able film about a film mak­er mak­ing a film about an inci­dent in his youth, when he’d stabbed a police­man. But the film, provoca­tive­ly titled A Moment of Inno­cence, starred the actu­al police­man play­ing his old­er self, advis­ing the actor who was cast as his younger self!

Most remark­ably of all, Makhmal­baf’s 18 year old daugh­ter Sami­ra then made a stun­ning film called The Apple, in ’98, about which I’ll say noth­ing oth­er than I defy any­one to unpick which scenes were fic­tion­al­ized and which ones actu­al­ly happened.

So when we see the for­lorn Panahi point­ing his iPhone at his friend, as his friend films him in his apart­ment in This Is Not A Film, it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly poignant image. Here are two Iran­ian film mak­ers engaged in a yet anoth­er fas­ci­nat­ing explo­ration of arti­fice and the film mak­ing process, and how it can impinge on the every day lives of ordi­nary peo­ple. It’s an artis­tic con­ver­sa­tion that we in the rest of the world have been hyp­no­tized by and have watched and lis­tened to in wonder.

What an amaz­ing coun­try, to have pro­duced so many serous film mak­ers pro­duc­ing such an extra­or­di­nary vari­ety of films. A Sep­a­ra­tion for instance, is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent kind of film (reviewed here). And yet here is yet anoth­er major film mak­er qui­et­ly ques­tion­ing the coun­try he loves and lives in.

But what was once a source of domes­tic pride has been trans­formed into one of nation­al shame. The author­i­ties in Iran appear to be inca­pable of see­ing the wood from the trees. And instead of cel­e­brat­ing one of their many, bril­liant film mak­ers, they’re send­ing one of them to gaol. Shame on you.

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