Like Sleep Dealer and Hunger, Women Without Men is a film that has its roots in the art world. Shirin Neshat, the film's director, is internationally known for video installations that poetically explore the formal and informal oppression of Iranian women. Women Without Men began its journey to the silver screen as a book by Shahrnush Parsipur, an Iranian-born novelist who lives in the United States. Neshat transformed the novel into video installations and then transformed the video installations into a movie about four women in Tehran. They live in a time of trouble, 1953.
The four women come from the three main classes of the capitalist world: the upper class, the middle class, and the underclass. The woman from the upper class is married to a general but is in love with a westernized Iranian man who has eyes only for hot American women. Frustrated with her life, the rich woman leaves the general and moves to an Edenic orchard. This lush location (deciduous trees, Venusian mists, bird sounds, and dappled ponds) mysteriously also draws two women from the other, lower classes. After fleeing a brothel, a prostitute ends up in the orchard; after fleeing the harsh death and fantastic resurrection of her best friend, an ordinary woman ends up at the gate of the orchard. Both are welcomed by the general's wife, both have been wounded by a society that is dominated by men who are either deeply religious or sexually abusive. The women walk through the garden, share their pain, and dream of worlds that have been liberated by the creative powers of art and love.
Another part of the movie concerns a woman who is witnessing the rise of the Shah of Iran. Supported by the West, the Shah seizes power, kills every possibility for a democratic future, and then initiates a terribly cruel nightmare that Iran has yet to wake up from. Women Without Men is as beautiful as it is sad.