Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan) (2010)
Critic Consensus: Its reach may exceed its grasp, but Women Without Men's beautiful imagery and quiet elegance will entrance patient viewers.
"Women Without Men," chronicles the intertwining lives of four Iranian women during the summer of 1953; a cataclysmic moment in Iranian history when an American led, British backed coup d'état brought down the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and reinstalled the Shah to power.
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Critic Reviews for Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan)
Eloquent film illuminates Iranian history from a female point of view.
The script jettisons most of the book's more powerful sections, upping the political angle and inexplicably eliminating motivations that made the strongly feminist story, rich in symbolism, so intriguing.
It's a celebration of women's resilience in the face of absolute patriarchy, an oppression that's felt on personal, cultural, and political levels.
Women Without Men has compelling stretches, but the film's formal concerns overwhelm the storytelling.
Audience Reviews for Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan)
1953 Iran is like the present day Iran in some areas, as women have to live by prescribed roles in both times. For example, Zarin(Orsolya Toth) is a prostitute. Fakhri(Arita Shahrzad) is nearing fifty and encounters Abbas(Bijan Daneshmand), an ex-flame, just as her husband(Tahmoures Tehrani), a general, is threatening to marry a younger woman. It is Munis(Shabnam Toloui) who sees the possibility for a better future as she listens to news reports on the radio about the protests that are happening just outside her door but is forbidden from attending by her brother Amir Khan(Essa Zahir) who is angry at her for not being married at the ripe old age of thirty, as her friend Faezeh(Pegah Ferydoni) commiserates with her.
"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)
I saw this at the Cleveland International Film Fest. The director, Shirin Neshat, and her partner and co-director, Shoja Azari, were there to answers questions and meet people after the movie. The story is adapted from a novel by Shahrnoush Parsipour. Shoja stated that the movie is about 30% of the book. All three of these artists are exiled from their native Iran.
The film is a great work of art. The way I heard it described I expected it to be various visual images spliced together to convey an artistic meaning. But it has a strong narrative, well defined characters, and the visual flourishes that are present are still tied to reality and moving the story forward.
Munis (Toloui) is the first woman we meet. She lives with her brother in 1950's Iran and is interested in social activism. Faezeh (Ferydoni) is her friend. Faezeh at first is content with Iranian traditions, but later comes to seek a new way. Fakhri (Shahrzad) is a more mature woman who is married to a high ranking military man who may potentially be the next prime minister. Her westernized old boyfriend comes back into her life. He has poets, philosophers, artists, and socialists for friends. Fakhri decides to become independent and moves into a house surrounded by an enchanting orchard. Then there is Zarin (Toth), who is a prostitute. Zarin runs away from that life but can't seem to get clean. Zarin wanders a long road to a distant horizon and finally finds the paradise like orchard. Faezeh with the help of Munis (who may be a ghost) also finds her way up the long road to the orchard and Fakhri's house. Munis returns to town to observe and help with the political protests. But Zarin, Faezeh, and Fakhri try to make a new life. I liked the setting of the orchard. The location is used to symbolize both paradise in the daytime with bright colors while the sun streams down and a nightmare at night with shadows darting about and a real sense that you could get lost. The supporting cast is great. Overall an excellent film.
Magic realism works surprisingly well alongside "everyday life" in this drama which focuses on the interweaving of four Iranian women in 1953 - the year of the US/British coup d'etat. Complex but approachable, the film deftly tackles feminist, religious and political themes in an assured evocation of period. Excellent performances from the four lead actors.
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