Women Without Men (2009) Poster

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Over-reaching film nonetheless has merits to savour
This was a highly ambitious Iranian film following the lives of several women in 1950s Iran. It may be of interest to American viewers in that the backdrop to the movie is the 1953 coup, where the CIA, in support of an absolute monarch (the Shah), helped overthrow a democratically elected government. That assumes that anyone is still interested in finding out "why the world hates America", I think it's become passé to ruminate on that now. But if you flick CNN on and see the latest wranglings with Iran, well here is where the story started, it's a good idea not to start reading at chapter 56.

The main focus of the film though is the treatment of several Iranian women by the society in which they live, and their retreat to a magical garden without men. It's an awesomely ambitious adaptation of a famous novel of the same name by Shahrnush Parsipur (who has a cameo appearance as the brothel madam). It's not particularly successful, I don't like saying that, but I think even Shirin Neshat, who was present for the screening was not happy with the finished article, which took a very long time to film. She has simply tried to weave too many strands. The most successful story perhaps is of the young prostitute Zarin, who is anorexic and actually played very well by a Hungarian actress, Orsolya Tóth. It's no surprise to me that Neshat actually made a 20 minute short starring the same actress in 2005 called Zarin, which was very well received.

In the Women Without Men, Zarin, who runs away from a brothel is seen furiously rubbing her body raw in some public baths. She speaks not a single word in the whole movie, and that is the most effective condemnation of the society she lives in.

We can see some of the terrible attitudes prevailing then and perhaps now as well about women. Amir Khan (played very ably by Essa Zahir) at one point approaches one of the women (Faezeh played by Pegah Ferydoni) and gives her this line about how women are flowers who blossom and then wither. He then asks her to become his second wife; his first wife, who has withered, will "of course" become her servant. Khan has absolutely no idea of the level of misogyny he's communicating. One of the women is a general's wife, her husband ends an incredibly oafish rant with an order for her to come and eat some melon because he wants her to. In the movie we see a distillation of the unfortunate insensitivities to which a group of Iranian women have been subjected. It's important to note that it would be an overreaction to condemn Iranian male society en masse.

It's a very beautiful movie, the garden of the villa that the general's wife sets herself up in after a very scandalous separation, is really very magical and shot wondrously. I was worried that the movie was getting a bit lost in it's quest for aesthetic perfection, and thusly becomes almost soporific. The stories of the different women became a bit cacophonic, there was no unison message. It's got to be pretty unbalanced as well, men are almost uniformly comedy sketch buffoons, the women martyrs.
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A beautiful metaphor
criticalview19 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
My take on the movie was more metaphoric than the reviews I've read about this movie. The lives of the characters in the movie represented different elements of Iranian society, full of contradictions where clashes and hopes live side by side. The 1953 democratic revolution was perceived differently by different elements of Iranian society. The key point of the film, as I see it, is manifested through the four women, who represented various forms of struggle within the Iranian society, and the gardener, who represented the core of Iranian culture, with a focus on creating beauty and providing hospitality to all.

I see Zarin, the prostitute, portraying the victimization of Iran, which had been suffering from abuse inflicted on her by various elements that humiliate her, robbing her of her dignity with complete disregard to her pain and true desires. Zarin's soul was awakened by a visit from the gardener who offered her hope of a new start through the wind of change that was taking shape through the political awakening that was promising revolutionary changes. She runs away from the brothel and is seen in a public bath furiously rubbing her body in a symbolic way of ridding herself of her sins/victimization as a first step toward regaining her dignity. She then walked into the garden of hope where she found peace and became part of the garden to be nurtured by those victims who represent the masses of the Iranian people who found hope of a better future for Iran through the revolution. They felt strong connections to Zarin and needed her to heal in order for their hope to be realized. Zarin's silence throughout the movie reflects the absence of her voice (Iran's voice) in the political process, an effective way of portraying the country's victimization by the Shah's dictatorship, and his backers, the West.

Munis, the sister, was victimized by the culture/religious restrictions (manifested through Amir, her brother) who isolated her and prevented her from participating Iran's political process, thus limiting her role in society to a mere servant. Munis' frustration led her to destroy her body in order to liberate her soul. Her spirit was finally liberated and joined the revolution by embodying one of the leaders of the revolution.

Faeza, the friend of the sister, portrayed the majority of Iranian women who are traditionally and culturally compliant. She has no interest in any political changes. Her only aspiration is to live according to traditions by getting married and be a good wife. Her conscious was tested when she witnessed her friend Munis' suicide in frustration over her brother control. She imagined her friend calling on her to set her free, which she did; but while she wandered the street in pursuit of her friend's spirit, she was raped by two traditional men, causing her to lose her innocence and feel ashamed. She then became an outcast and destitute and in need of help. Munis' spirit guided her to the garden of hope where she met with the other victims (women) and together they formed a support group spirited by the revolution which they hoped would bring them rejuvenation and a better life. But in order for their aspirations to come true, the revolution, embodied by Munis, must survive. Unfortunately, the Shah, backed by the CIA, killed any hope of liberation by instigating a coup led by the Shah and the corrupt elites of Iranian society.

The wife of the general represent ed the upper class/intellectuals of the Iranian society who dreamed of a meaningful and fulfilling life that would allow her to grow .

The man who nurtured the garden represents the essence or foundation of Iran itself where all are welcome and hope is eternal. The magical garden the general's wife purchased is a place where hope lives and die.
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tasteful, beautifully shot, well-meaning drama
thisissubtitledmovies31 August 2010
Women Without Men is the debut feature from 'visual artist'-turned- director Shirin Neshat, well known for her artistic works exploring gender relations. It is the adaptation of the 1989 novel of the same name by Shahrnush Parsipur, which was banned by the Iranian government in the 1990s for its outspoken depiction of female oppression.

Women Without Men is a tasteful, beautifully shot, well-meaning drama with some excellent performances and strong story set in a fascinating period in Iranian history. It's let down a little by its tendency to rely on clichés and convenience when it comes to character, but still an extremely enjoyable take on female independence and the intertwining lives of these four women. LB
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Highly recommended to anyone interested in Art and/or Women's Issues
monagz-500-47198622 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Wow, I was about to recommend this film to a friend, and wanted to check the name of the director, and was thoroughly disappointed with the ratings this film received on IMDb. I have watched this movie twice. I wrote a lengthy plot summary of it on Wikipedia (which contains spoilers), which I think still requires shortening.

I believe that any poor ratings or reviews are due to misunderstanding of the film or lack of appreciation for this type of film. If you are not interested in the types of issues the director is addressing, don't watch it. But don't tell everyone else that it's horrible and not worth their time. I beg to differ.

As an Iranian-Canadian woman who has some understanding of the issues Iranian women have faced and still face, this film resonated with me. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in women's issues in Iran. There is a lot of b.s. about these things, but this film seems to present the issues realistically (although I can't know for sure because I am no expert in history).

Secondly, this film is visually stunning, and I also highly recommend it as a piece of art. Anyone looking to see a film that is different and special should see it. It is highly allegorical in nature, as some other reviewers have mentioned. I also have to bring up the comment as to the "misleading" nature of the title... obviously it is not meant to be taken literally. The director is trying to show the lives of women, and perhaps there is the suggestion of what they would be like without men, in a world more in-tune with the well-being and aspirations of women (as in the garden).
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rdvljunk18 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
When I saw this movie I had planned another movie right after it. But that movie I can't even remember so had this movie entered my mind. It blew me away. The story is complex and tells the fall of the Irian democracy due the commercial interests of the west (oil companies) and their support to the Sjah. Several different story lines of woman tell the story of the time, not always in a direct way. The film is full of symbols and metaphors, some simple (like the girl who's physical state represent the state of the country) some very complex and not understandable without some knowledge of the Irianian culture. And all these stories mix and come together one way or another

Combined with the visual aesthetics the movie feels like a dream
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Shirin Neshat in the best way possible combined politics with a love story.
shahryarbh2 June 2012
Great story, being a Persian, I always heard about the Coup but I could never picture how was it like living at that time, and Shirin Neshat in the best way possible combined it with a love story. Munes wants to be knowledgeable about social and sexual matters (in the film she wants to be a political activist); Faezeh is a traditional Muslim woman who wants a good marriage; Zarin Kolah is a prostitute dreaming of a better future, and Farok-Lagha is a wealthy woman determined to become an influential figure on the political scene. All four end up in a house with a garden in a Tehran suburb, striving for a future that was not granted to them. Gardens are popular in the middle East and especially in Iran, where a garden is a metaphor for paradise.
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This film lingers with you for a long time
janborilden23 October 2010
The director Shirin Neshat has in "Zanan-e bedun-e mardan", made a visually stunning and important film, with a lot of good acting performances. Especially by Pegah Ferydoni(as Faezeh), and Arita Shahrzad (as Farrokhlagha). When you walk out of the cinema after having watched this movie, the real world will for a time seem a bit more colorless and unreal.

With the military coup of the Shah of Iran in 1953 as a background, four women find out the price for freedom. And through them, the audience find out the price and value of freedom for themselves. The film also draws the historical lines between the democratic Iran of the early 1950s, and the "Green movement" of today.
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The CIA and the rights of women in Iran
Red-12512 July 2010
Women Without Men (2009) is an Iranian film whose original title is Zanan-e bedun-e mardan. It was directed by Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari. The title "Women Without Men" is misleading, because the women are only "without" men because they are able temporarily to escape from the men in their lives by moving to a rural estate.

The movie takes place in 1953, when the CIA helped overthrow the democratic government of Iran and put the Shah into power. Some of the women are running from government oppression, and some of them are running from the oppression of the men in their lives.

The women in the film had few acceptable options--probably an accurate reflection of the lives of women in Iran during this period. It's a grim situation, and it's depicted in a grim film. I don't have the expertise to know how faithful the film is to the novel on which it's based, or to the reality of events in 1950's Iraq. That information will have to come from an expert. (My guess is that the portrayal of women's lives is pretty accurate.)

This is a powerful film. We saw it at the excellent Rochester 360-365 film festival--dumb name but great festival. There's enough in this film to make it worth seeing, but, in my opinion, not enough to warrant seeking it out at all costs. It should work well on a small screen.
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Interesting subject, but zero focus
tenshi_ippikiookami18 December 2015
"Women Without Men" centers on the lives of four women in 1950's Iran. It offers an interesting view and it's not without its good points, but in general is out of focus, withers, and feels way too long, even if it clocks at just a little over an hour and a half.

The story follows how family, friends, society, repress the lives of four women, and how they react and how they try to break free from the limitations and lack of liberty their environment throws on them. It is kind of dreamlike in its exposure of its ideas, and some situations are more like drawings of a feeling than a real plot developing. It is almost white and black, which suits well with the bleak spirit of the story, which is quite gloomy in general, and it looks quite good. The actors, in general, do quite a good job, even if the material is a little bit thin.

Sadly, the director tries to encompass too much and show too many things, and the films paddles and loses itself. It doesn't help that it has been directed in a very languid style, with little action and long shots. I am not expecting Michael Bay's style to pop by in these kind of movies, but slow can be too slow. And this is one of those cases. On top of that, the story per se is not very original, as we have seen these kind of situations before (for example, the wife who married and meets again the love of her youth), so the movie is not very original either.

A good effort, but kind of a misfire.
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Man-aging pretty badly
AfroPixFlix29 April 2011
More of a visual impressionist than storyteller, Shirin Neshat uses the thread of magic-realism to weave together vignettes of five besieged Iranian women. The film beautifully depicts the early fifties era in Iran, during the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi coup and rebellion against American-British usurpation. Men fare badly in this feature, with maybe one silent gardener playing a benign male role. Neshat has a gifted eye, so check out the extra features for her detail-rich explanations of film nuancing. AfroPixFlix finds 8 fig-forks for this film-festival feature.Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan) 2009; 91 mins Directors: Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari Writers: Shoja Azari, Shirin Neshat
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Art in film
msa-199112 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Women without men; is an Iranian film which was directed by Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari in 2009. The movie reflects women issues in Iran and the oriental culture generally. The film based on an Iranian novel which has the same name. It was written by Shahrnush Parsipur in 1989. The writer was prison-ed five years because of this novel and it is forbidden until now to be distributed in the Iranian land. The film has four main women characters embodying a several situations in the Iranian society. The writer and the directors criticize enslaving women and considering them as bodies controlled by men or even by some dominate women. The film take a place in 1953, where there was a coup against Mohammed Mosaddegh by the UK and USA. None of the film characters is politically active, but Munis has the interest of supporting Mosaddegh and follow up the news, while her brother prevent her from that. The four main characters are Munis, Faezeh, Zarin and Fakhri. Munis is a liberal woman reached the age of thirty without getting married and her brother tries to arrange her a husband because he feels ashamed of that. Faezeh is the best friend of Munis; and she loves Munis's brother secretly. Bothe women are middle class women. Zarin is a prostitute woman; she hates her life and wants to change it hardly and she sets at the bottom of the social pyramid. Fakhri is an upper class woman who is tired of her husband and wants to dislocate her husband. The movie starts with Azzan (Islamic call for prayer) which reflects the religion issue in the film as one of the most important elements. Munis stands alone on the roof wearing her Islamic dress (Higab-scarf), she takes it off and the scarf falls on the ground as she throws herself into the sky. She seems like flying in freedom after she took off her heavy weights of religious and cultural thoughts that were forced on her by the society and the dominant power of men. She says while she is flying into the sky "I'll have silence, silence, and nothing, and I realize the only freedom from pain is to be free from the world". The scene shows the hardness of her life with the Hijab which portrays religious and traditional barriers that she can't break, so she decided to leave them on the earth and go away to the sky, where she can find freedom to enjoy. The four women decide to survive from the society and have their own freedom, as they all meet in a strange garden. The garden is outside the city and it has its own gatekeeper. Whenever the woman come near of the garden, the door is opened by the gatekeeper without any knocking. In this garden women have their own freedom to live their live as they always wanted as they also face their fears and challenges. The concept of "the garden" goes all the way back to the Babylon time, which it has the oldest texts that talk about the sacred, secret garden. The space that devoted for love symbolizing the Garden of Eden. The bible has also mentioned the sacred garden and describe its beauty as the woman body and the act of love. The film is one of the best films I have watched which deals with symbolism and it is so rich with it, so I will give one of the best examples in the film. When Zarin was doing her job as a prostitute, as she is sick of her life and she seems like a dead woman. She has a strange costumer. She usually doesn't look into the face of her costumer. She waits the costumer until he finishes having sex with her. But the strange costumer has touched her differently, he softly touches her arm and then her face. She might has felt that, he touches her soul not her body with a dirty and sexualized desire. So she decides to see that different man. When she opens her eyes, she sees a faceless man and then she runs away. The faceless human in dreams can be explained by discovering the one self's hidden character. As she doesn't want to continue her life under the pressure and the ashamed society who forced her in a way or another to have such a dirty life. surprisingly, the man is the garden gatekeeper himself, as he is shown later on.
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Another women-on-women movie fail
Karl Self2 September 2010
In a way, it does what it says on the tin: it's a movie about women who escape the -- always suppressive -- men in their life. In Iran in the 1950ies. There is a woman whose brother is trying to force her into marriage, a prostitute, the ageing wife of a general, a girl in love with an orthodox Muslim. All suffer ignominy from men without really engaging them or even fighting back. They eventually all retreat into a surreal orchard owned by the general's wife. At the same time we get to witness a bit of the political upheavals of the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup against the democratically-elected prime minister Mossadeq.

Director Shirin Neshat was born in Iran and left as a young woman as a result of the 1979 Islamic revolution; so she knows both Iran and the West. Here she is able to employ her expertise as a video artist in some scenes, which give the film a unique visual style (for example there is a "still" scene where the people seem to be both frozen as well as slightly moving).

What I didn't like about this movie is that it always stays on the political surface. We notice that there is a revolution going on, but we don't get to see any historic context -- by way of saying "sit up and listen, USA, this is how you fecked up Iran in a big way". Communists as well as loyal supporters of the Shah somehow seem to be equally opposing "the system". I also didn't like how women are portrayed as helpless victims of one-dimensionally evil men.
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must be drunk to get this one considered at all
alexanderjosefina2 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
bad movies are just bad,cause they are nit done well, have no scripts, or terrible actors, lighting is wrong and above all director is just far off the line of what movie making is all about. this terribly bad film has it all in it. and all that shows how invaluable, stupid, and worthlessness all world festivals are all together to get all these stupid films merits and awards. man i was almost wet in my pants as it went on every 10 minutes. bad movie from a good artist, but hell who said all artists should make films. this one is out of pure complexions from an artist who wants to be taken seriously as an director. sorry girl, you have miles to go to get there . go back to your art
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