“Neshat spoke to The Stranger’s Jen Graves on Tuesday, by phone from her home in New York.
I first want to talk about Zarin, the anorexic prostitute who hallucinates at the sight of her john, then flees to a women’s bath—a beautiful place, sparkling with dusty light—where she scrubs her own skin until she bleeds. A few years ago, I caught your short video portrait of her, and was never able to get her out of my mind. You’ve said her character feels the closest to you.
In some ways, every one of the women has an aspect of my own issues in them, but I think with Zarin, I found her the most touching. There’s her issue with the body, and the question of her loneliness and alienation—the fact that she always came across as if she was a woman that was never meant to belong to this planet but somehow she had to cope with it. Although I’ve never been like that, I’ve understood that problem, and to some degree, I have experienced being lonely a lot of times in my life.The most important thing to me is her relationship to her body, in the way that she punishes herself for everything that is wrong with the world. When I was young, I was very briefly anorexic, but I think this is very much of a woman issue: You basically self-inflict to cope with everything that is wrong in the world. Oddly enough, the one that is the most sinful [the prostitute] becomes the most spiritual. We have a saying, that the mystics, the dervishes in our Sufi tradition, are the people that suffer the most, and because they’re so tortured, they turn into spiritual beings. Zarin, who is the most tortured, becomes the most spiritual and the most compassionate in the way that she impacts the other women’s lives. It’s her spirituality and otherworldliness that I like. The last thing, also, is that Zarin never speaks in the entire film, but you always understand her.”
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