Shirin Neshat's Women without Men and Hana Makhmalbaf's Green Days are both set in Iran during turbulent periods of that nation's history - Women, half a century ago; Green Days, just months ago. Both films have screened in Venice and in Toronto, where each film will be shown once more: Women on Saturday and Green Days on Thursday. Despite the media storm kicked up by the, shall we say, controversial presidential election in June and the daring wave of protests that followed for weeks on end, neither film has attracted all that much attention from the usual sources of festival coverage. So: let's see what we can find.
"Exiled Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat's eagerly-anticipated first feature is a work which is as visually enticing as her installations but still hasn't quite made the leap to feature length," writes Dan Fainaru in Screen. "As politically motivated as ever, she is still far more comfortable with pure images and magic realism than plotting."
Variety's Jay Weissberg finds Women to be "an uneven adaptation of the controversial Persian novella Women Without Men. Directed in collaboration with her offscreen partner, helmer-artist Shoja Azari, the much-anticipated pic has striking moments comparable to the best of Neshat's potent imagery. But the script jettisons most of the book's more powerful sections, upping the political angle and inexplicably eliminating motivations that made the strongly feminist story, rich in symbolism, so intriguing."
Peter Bowen, though, blogging at FilmInFocus, admires this "poignant, moving marriage of politics and art. Adapted from Sharnush Parsipur's magical realist novel about the lives of four women during 1953, the year US helped push out the democratically elected Dr Mohammed Mossadegh in order to reinstall the Shah."
Back in June, Angella Nazarian described meeting Neshat in the Huffington Post, where she notes that the four women in the film "belong to different social classes: a prostitute, an upper-class married woman, an activist, and a devout woman whose only dream is to get married and have children. All four live an exiled life in their own country, where they struggle for an identity in 1950s deeply patriarchal Iran. It was an era in which growing up female meant deference to authority and power, and being trapped in limited gender roles. These women form their own utopia in a garden, where they try to reconstruct their lives. As Neshat keenly remarks, 'these women go into a second self-imposed exile to get a new start.'"
Phong Bui and Carol Becker have a fine, long talk with Neshat in the Brooklyn Rail.
For the AFP, Gina Doggett reports briefly on the screenings of Women, Green Days and a handful of other Iranian films - shorts, mostly - at Venice.
On Friday, France 24 reported that Green Days "blends fiction and documentary to tell the story of Ava, a depressed young woman in Tehran caught up in the political commotion preceding the June 12 presidential election. Makhmalbaf uses this ripped-from-the-headlines angle to portray a traumatised country in which burgeoning forces of hope and change are met with repression and corruption.... Despite the violence, Makhmalbaf does not believe the 'green' movement has been stamped out. 'Every day, more people join the opposition,' she said. 'If it continues, you'll see Ahmadinejad and Khamenei holding guns on one side, and the Iranian people on the other.'"
The National Iranian American Council notes that "Hana Makhmalbaf said she had to leave Iran after the vote because the government wanted to arrest her. She finished editing the film at a secret location in Italy to avoid Iranian censorship. You can watch the full version of Green Days here."
As Nancy Tartaglione reports for Screen, Wild Bunch picked up Green Days just before it premiered in Venice.