The drive of Women Without Men, the debut feature film from US-resident Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat, is communicated in its opening sequence. Screams of civil discord mingle with distant religious chants, as a lone woman in black stands against the cloud-cracked sky. Perched atop a building, she observes society but is passive in its development. She jumps, as the film cuts to a slow-motion, elegiac close-up, and she muses in voice over: "Now I'll have silence: silence, and nothing."
Neshat's film, written and directed in collaboration with Shoja Azari, and taking cues from the novel, banned in Iran, by fellow exile Shahrnush Parsipur, explores just what freedoms women can create for themselves in that male-dominated, religious society. For the film's four female protagonists, liberty is found in death or, more fittingly, escape, as their separate lives intersect around a lush, Eden-like orchard. Set apart from the bustle of the city, these women are allowed to bloom and blossom. Fakhri, a middle-aged lady who divorces her military husband and buys the fabled hideaway, indulges in her love of culture and music; Faezeh, a victim of rape, discards her veil and grows comfortable with her own body, as her dark hair is allowed to fall loosely over her bare shoulders.
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