Iran onscreen

Sea of inhumanity: An Iranian woman struggles to find her place in a male-centered Islamic culture.
Sea of inhumanity: An Iranian woman struggles to find her place in a male-centered Islamic culture.
Middle East Studies Center to screen Iranian film Women Without Men
Sea of inhumanity: An Iranian woman struggles to find her place in a  male-centered Islamic culture. COURTESY of
Sea of inhumanity: An Iranian woman struggles to find her place in a male-centered Islamic culture.

Shirin Neshat’s 2009 Iranian film, Women Without Men, will be screened on campus next week as part of the Middle East Studies Center’s Iranian Women Film Series. Afterward, the center will host a reception and discussion with Shahrnush Parsipur, author of the novel on which the film is based.

Women Without Men tells the story of four Iranian women during the 1953 Western-backed coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. It is an intimate tale about the friendships that blossom between the women during a time of personal and political tumult.

Each of the women bears a social scar. Munis (Shabnam Tolouei) is a young political activist with little interest in marriage, despite her brother’s threats. Her friend, Faezeh (Pegah Ferydoni), is a rape victim. After Faezeh’s assault, Munis leads her to an orchard garden outside of Tehran and tells her to enter and seek shelter.

It is in the garden that Faezeh meets Fakhri (Arita Shahrzad), the wife of an Iranian General. Fakhri, a strong matronly woman that has purchased the orchard, takes her in and gives her a home. Also within the orchard is Zarin (Orsi Toth), a sickly prostitute that fled from her life in a brothel.

The three women develop a bond as Fakhri works to reopen the orchard. Meanwhile, Munis remains in the city, collaborating with Communists to return Mossadegh to power. The activities of her group ultimately lead the Shah’s army to clamp down, raiding the homes of suspected insurgents, before ultimately crashing a party held at the orchard.

Women Without Men is adapted from a novel of the same name. As a story of the magical realist genre, the tale is steeped in metaphor and allegory. The orchard and its original groundskeeper, who makes multiple appearances but says little, are two of the recurring symbolic motifs lacing the narrative.

Other films to be screened in the film series include Pearls on the Ocean Floor, 20 Fingers and The Unwanted Woman, all of which will show at 5th Avenue Cinema the following weekend. The theme uniting the films is their focus on the lives of Iranian women. Three of the four films are, in fact, directed by Iranian women.

“All of the films are about women and show the lives of women in Iran, both their challenges and their successes,” said Elisheva Cohen, outreach coordinator for the Middle East Studies Center.

Cohen said that the purpose of the film series is “to bring attention to the lives of women in Iran.”

“There are many cultural assumptions made about women in Iran, and I think part of this series is to dispel some of those stereotypes,” she said.

The center’s film series, according to Cohen, will be the first of its kind to be held in Portland. The center also plans to hold a cohesive, year-long series of films next year about youth in the Middle East.

The screenings have been made possible through the efforts of Dr. Anousha Sedighi, a professor in the world languages and literature department who is affiliated with the center. Sedighi selected the films to be viewed and is responsible for Parsipur’s appearance.

“All of this is a part of expanding and strengthening the Persian studies program,” Cohen said. “Right now, Dr. Sedighi is the only faculty member.”

Cohen also pointed out the significance of the film series as a showcase for the Iranian community in Portland.

“It is the first Iranian film series that’s been held in Portland,” she said. “Portland has a very strong Iranian community. Every summer there is an Iranian festival held in the park blocks, and that gets hundreds, if not thousands, in attendance.”

The Middle East Studies Center is part of Portland State’s Office of International Affairs. The Center serves as a hub for those on campus with an interest in the Middle East, coordinating events and programs through staff and faculty in an interdisciplinary fashion. In addition, the Center offers scholarships for students and grants for faculty.

“What we’re really trying to do is promote knowledge about the Middle East, both within PSU and within the greater community of Portland and beyond,” Cohen said.

PSU Middle East Studies Center presents
The Iranian Women Film Series: Women Without Men (2009)
Followed by reception and discussion with author Shahrnush Parsipur
Sunday, Feb. 5, 3 p.m.Hoffman Hall
Free and open to the public
Previous articleMen in spirit
Next articleThe art of ancestry


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here