Conceptual artist Shirin Neshat's first feature represents, in several ways, her life's work. She's grappled with Shahrnush Parsipur's eponymous novella&emdash;published in 1990 and quickly banned in Iran, both women's home country, though they live in exile in the U.S.&emdash;for six years already, exploring characters' converging journeys in the four-pronged narrative with preceding video art pieces. Her feminist retelling of 1953's CIA-backed coup, shot through with magical realism, offers a luscious mid-century period analogue to both the 1979 revolution that plunged Neshat's progressive, middle-class family into poverty, and last year's Green Revolution, of which she was a very vocal supporter.
There are bloody protests here, but often only seen or heard from afar by four women from vastly different backgrounds all looking for spaces beyond male control in panoptic Tehran. Noir-ish at night, and stifling in its dry, deadening heat by day, the city offers no refuge for Fakhri (Arita Shahrzad), the wife of a decorated general, Zarin (Orsolya Tóth), a sickly skinny sex worker, and Faezah (Pegah Ferydoni), the mysterious and shamed best friend of Munis (Shabnam Toloui)&emdash;who, for her part, makes do in the city only after committing suicide and coming back to life as a communist radical. Streets of stark black and white under sharp blue skies give way to an edenic house in an orchard where the women find temporary refuge. Though their losses are many and varied, Neshat's luminescent, long take-filled revolutionary fable holds out hope for these dissenting women.Opens May 14