Monday, 28 June 2010

How lucky we are...

I am reminded how lucky we are after A asking me 'what is free speech?' As per usual with him, it was easier to explain the absence of free speech and to get him to imagine what would life be like without free speech.

Now I'm partial to a bit of free speech seeing as I frequently and sometimes without thought speak my mind. For some reason, being unable to voice my opinions or my estimation of certain people and things drives me barmy. I am especially good at working people out and am seldom wrong and yet to be proved wrong. But sometimes, I, like everyone, am forced into situations where I have to keep schtoom and smile politely. As it turns out I have one of those faces whereby my expression reveals everything...

So this links in nicely to the Annual Edinburgh International Film Festival and to my rendition of the lack of free speech in some parts of the world to A. Currently showing at the festival is a film called Women without Men, an Iranian film made by a female direction and artist, Shirin Neshat. The film is based on a 1989 novel of the same name by Iranian writer Sharmush Parsipur.Set in 1953 Iran, against the tumultuous backdrop of a CIA-backed coup, this film traces the stories of four women struggling to cope with their place in society in Tehran. Fakri, the middle aged wife of a high ranking official in the dictator Shah’s military, is trapped in a loveless marriage. Zarin, a young prostitute who suddenly can no longer see the faces of men, is slowly losing her mind as she struggles to come to terms with her profession. Munis, fascinated by the reports in the streets of a Western-led coup, has to resist the seclusion imposed on her by her religiously traditional brother and her friend Faezah, who chooses to embrace religious conservatism and whose only interest is marriage. As the film flows in and out of these interrelating narratives, the four discover a walled orchard where they find refuge – until the outside world breaks in. It is impossible to watch the film and not see parallels to Iran today. It makes a viewer acknowledge that what is happening in Iran now is a consequence of the actions of the European and US ruling class decades ago.Then, as now, women were in the forefront of the struggle for human rights. The result is a film of contrasts: divided between politics and poetry, between the stark washed out documentary images of a city in turmoil and the sumptuous and beautiful images of the orchard. It is a subtle and beautiful exploration of personal and political life and has resonance in a variety of contexts. Not one of the best films, I've seen and it's transformation from it's original setting as an art installation causes problems on the big screen. There is little character development and the pace is incredibly slow.

The film's exploration of the female social condition in Iran, for me highlights the best example of the limits imposed upon free speech that I know. Yes, there have been a number of conditions throughout the ages in many different countries but the one I know best if Iran and having had first hand experience of the country and albeit temporarily and without fear of consequence I lived that existence during my stay there. The film, by the way, is banned by the government in Iran and the writer of the original book, on publication of the book, was jailed for five years. The only way women or men for that matter can see this piece of work or read the original text is through the black market as part of the underground.


  1. Dear Oh Mammy,

    I've seen the film but not had the fortune to have read the book yet. Wonderfully powerful characters and very evocative scenes. I would not know how to live under such strictures.

    Enjoying the blog,

  2. Thanks, mysterious R person that you R. I 'enjoyed' it. Have you seen the latest from the Telegraph?


Thanks for taking the time to comment!