Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, NY
Shirin Neshat’s “Women Without Men,” which opens Friday in New York, represents this experimental photographer and video artist’s first venture into feature filmmaking, and it’s already proven to be an auspicious start. Neshat won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival last year for her exploration of political and religious oppression in her native Iran. And given the increased international attention to Iranian politics in recent months, the New York-based artist’s work — much of which deals with gender and identity in the Muslim world — is more in demand than ever. A comprehensive monograph of her work is out this month from Rizzoli, and she has just optioned the novel “The Palace of Dreams,” by Ismail Kadare, for her second film.
Q. Were you concerned about making a controversial film that questions Islam? After all, the Dutch director Theo van Gogh was murdered because of his short film, “Submission,” about Muslim women.
I have never tried to provoke the Muslim community, as I consider myself a Muslim. I, too, found Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s short film disrespectful to Muslims. I believe we don’t need to widen the divide between the West and Islam. Rather, we need to build dialogue to encourage tolerance and respect.
The movie is based on the book by Shahrnush Parsipur. How have you adapted it?
The magic realism of the novel was extremely difficult to turn into a screenplay. Also, it was written as a series of five short stories, which followed the lives of five women separately, who in the final chapter converge in a mysterious orchard. We went with four main characters and divided them into two realistic characters and two allegorical characters.
The film is set in 1953. How historically accurate is it?
With this film, I had pay attention to fashion as a way to depict the distinct classes and cultural dynamics of the 1950s, a significant period in Iranian history. We had a secular government and a very Westernized and sophisticated society. My team and I did extensive research to understand the architecture, interior design, fashion, hair and makeup of Iranian culture at the time. For instance, women of the nonreligious community did not wear the veil, whereas lower- and middle-class religious women did.
One of the characters, Munis, longs to take part in political protest but can only do so as a ghost. Why?……….