VENICE (Reuters) - Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat has made her first feature film about women’s lack of freedom and growing political involvement in 1953 Iran, but she said the story had strong parallels with the situation today.
“Women Without Men” chronicles the intertwining lives of four women from different walks of life at the time of the U.S. and British-backed coup which deposed a democratically elected prime minister and reinstated the Shah to power.
Against the backdrop of political turmoil in the streets of Tehran, the film follows each woman’s struggle for freedom — be it from a loveless marriage, seclusion imposed by a religiously conservative family, or prostitution.
Neshat, whose film is in competition at the Venice film festival, said that the battles for democracy and women’s rights in Iran went hand-in-hand, and were central to street protests which followed a presidential vote in June.
“The images of the uprisings in the summer of 1953 have so much resemblance to what is going on this summer in Iran, and I think symbolically this film represents the Iranian struggle over time for democracy and freedom,” she told reporters.
“People have changed, the dictators have changed in form and shape and ideology but the struggle continues.”
Only one of the four women in the film, Munis, is interested in what is going on in the streets of the capital where people are marching against the coup. But her wings are clipped by her conservative brother, who wants her to marry and stay at home.
Neshat drew comparisons between Munis and Neda Agha-Soltan, the slain woman who became a martyr for this year’s protesters.
“Both of them were not really actively involved but somehow they became the symbolic characters of this movement for democracy,” she said.
At the film’s press conference, several of the actresses and producers wore green scarves — the color adopted by the demonstrators.
The film is an adaptation of Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel of the same name. The Iranian writer has been jailed on two occasions for referring to virginity in the book, which is banned in her homeland like all of her works.
Parsipur and Neshat both live abroad. Neshat, 52, is best known for her video installations, which have been exhibited in New York, Berlin and London.
“This film speaks to the Iranian people and to the world: for over 100 years we have been constantly fighting for democracy and we will not give up,” said Neshat.
“It’s a very important message for people who are in Iran today and sometimes lose hope that change will arrive. We will get there one day.”
Two other Iranian films at the Venice festival, “Green Days” and “Tehroun,” explore the current situation in the Islamic Republic.