Shirin is a painful watch. There’s no secret to that, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably bullshitting you. The last film in the great Iranian director’s experimental phase, Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin has no characters, no camera movement, no shot variety, and arguably no plot. Some might say it doesn’t even have a point.
So, what is it? Shirin, the female love interest in the canonical Persian poem Khosrow and Shirin by Nizami Ganjavi (the same poet behind the superior star-crossed lover epic Layla and Majnun), is an experimental feature film in which the only subjects presented on screen are women in a theater watching an abbreviated dramatization of Khosrow and Shirin. We hear (and, for non-Persian speakers, read) the voices of the narrator and the key characters in the play: Sasanian king Khosrow, Armenian princess Shirin, and Shirin’s would-be lover Farhad, amongst others. One doesn’t need to be familiar with the poem before watching Shirin, but it helps to know a few things—after all, a crowd of women in Iran would almost certainly be familiar with the classical poem.
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