A hundred and fourteen famous Iranian theater and cinema actresses and a French star: mute spectators at a theatrical representation of Khosrow and Shirin, a Persian poem from the twelfth ... See full summary »

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A hundred and fourteen famous Iranian theater and cinema actresses and a French star: mute spectators at a theatrical representation of Khosrow and Shirin, a Persian poem from the twelfth century, put on stage by Kiarostami. The development of the text -- long a favorite in Persia and the Middle East -- remains invisible to the viewer of the film, the whole story is told by the faces of the women watching the show. Written by Venice Film Festival

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20 January 2010 (France)  »

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Ширин  »

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Kiarostami's Hymn to Women
30 June 2009 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

This is an amazing film.

I knew very little about it when I went except that 'all it showed' was a lot of women's faces watching a film ... What I experienced, however, was a brilliant - and daring - piece of multi-layered cinema. Yes, 'all we watch' are the faces of a group of 140 (apparently) Iranian women - plus Juliet Binoche - watching the traditional story of Shirin, an Armenian Queen.

We hear the soundtrack (and, in my case, read the subtitles) and see the women's reactions. But we never see what they see. They are looking past and beyond us.

The first thing that strikes one is the beauty of - and in - the faces of these women - and how beautifully Kiarostami lights and shoots them. Not to mention the complex and subtle rhythms of the edit. Women from their late teens into their sixties achingly expressive like renaissance portraiture ...Holbein or Velasquez or some of the Dutch masters come to mind ... And even after is had dawned that some, or perhaps all, of these faces might belong to actresses, each cunningly made up, the layers of the film, for me, only deepened: here, after all, is the dialectic of actors being watched - 'as themselves'.

Because, we wonder, are they aware that they are being filmed, watched? Of course. Kiarostami would have explained the set-up to them. That must be why he has managed to persuade so many famous and attractive Iranian women actors to take part; what a show reel for them! But through this choice, the director allows us to watch them while wondering how much they might, at any one point, be 'acting'? How much they are aware from moment to moment, these 'fakers', these 'deceivers', that they are being observed? And when, as they become engrossed in elements of the story, they forgot? And become 'themselves'.

And they do become engrossed. The tears flow. As did mine - watching their tears. They flinch when swords scythe, when heads and hands are chopped off. They lower their eyes with a memory of their own. Or in horror. They smile with recognition. Their faces light up. Darken.

So much is shown. But so much is not revealed. So much work is left to our imaginations.

And of course, there is the whole layer of these women being Iranian. A culture we don't know. Or think we know and dismiss out of hand, or patronise out of our ignorance. Every one of the women - even Juiette Binoche - is wearing a headscarf, headscarves that themselves become expressive of the wearer's individuality. How they drape them. Each one, like each face, unique. How each scarf lies. How each scarf frames the face. How the women themselves move the folds and adjust them, or play with, or arrange the material, unconsciously, as they watch...

And on another level, a deeper level, it's a great choice of Kiarostami's, that the film they are watching is about Shirin, a strong women, a lover, a hero Queen - an epic story crammed with sex, passion, betrayal, longing, lust and all expressed in the most heightened language and emotion. Because, as we watch these women watching, we know that they have, collectively, experienced all of this. Their eyes tell us that. Their tears. Their little smiles of recognition. Their open and child-like faces.

This is the ultimate success of the film. We meet 140 Iranian women. And one French one - also a clever choice ... We have a chance to watch them intimately. We, in the dark, watch them in the dark, watching. We fall in love with them; no less so the older ones, whose faces are etched with life. We know, young and old, they have all lived and had lives and loves and children, some of them, and grief and failures and loss and triumph over odds. And yet we know nothing of their stories. The details. Yet yearn to know them. The unknowable.

This is a film which gives the lie to a million clichés and 'certainties' about Iran, and 'freedom' and Islam and 'The Other'. I do recommend people to find a place to see it. But in a cinema. On a big screen. After all, it's an epic - but on a vibrantly human scale.


29 of 36 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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