[21 July 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Nothing is as strangely disconcerting, or one might add, as oddly fulfilling as stepping into a movie theatre, only to see another audience also here to watch a film, who are staring right back at you. The resulting experiment, Shirin is a wonderful, post-modern take on the cinema. As the movie unfolds, it becomes clear that we aren’t here to watch a story in the traditional sense, but to take a look at ourselves, and to consider the palpable reactions that the film theatre can induce in an audience.
The entire film exists solely as a series of close-ups of over 100 Iranian women, who are sitting in a cinema, engrossed in an adaptation of the folk story of Khosrow & Shirin (a mystical 12th century romance about female self sacrifice). As the picture unfolds, we begin to study the faces of the audience members. We observe, the twiddling of thumbs, the furrowing of brows, the tentative smiles, and most importantly the insurmountable tears. By simply watching these female reactions, I found myself forming my own assumptions about the characters and their back-stories. I wanted to know why each and every one of these women reacted in the way she did. Were this woman scorned by their husbands? Oppressed by the government’s militant regime? Forced into hapless marriages?
Moreover, Western cinemagoers will be pleased to find the beautiful Juliette Binoche staring back at them, during intermittent points on the screen. Why is she living in Iran, one might ask? And as such, the curious questions continue keeping us far from boredom. Understandably some viewers will struggle to find the purpose in the cinematic release of this piece, but arguably, the whole point of Shirin is that it is broadcast in a movie theatre. Certainly, the story of Khosrow and Shirin, which is rife with passionate trysts, would probably never be produced in a conservative nation like Iran. As such, this motion picture’s existence presents the story in a subversive manner, while at the same time relaying a completely unique theatrical experience. Subtle, but assured in its approach, watching Shirin is like watching a series of fragmented dreams—each and every one from a separate life that is as beautiful, as it is poignant.