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Looking for Oum Kulthum

Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
Germany, Austria, Italy, Morocco 2017 / 90’
Kupal Multitude

Iran's most famous artist, Shirin Neshat, tells the story of a legendary Egyptian singer. This sensual film composed of layers of stories is in equal measure a biography of Oum Kulthum and an autobiography of Neshat herself: it shows the experiences of female artists in the male art world: negotiations between one's private life and career and the clash between modernity and local traditions. Oum Kulthum was a legendary Egyptian diva whose fame spread throughout the entire Arab world. From the 1920s to the 1970s, she sold millions of albums. She came from a very humble family, and she sang for the greatest families in the country; she was a symbol of emancipation and a model of the modern Arab woman. The years of her greatest fame coincided with the intense development of modern Egyptian society. For Egyptians, she is also a figure of modernism. To tell the story of the dual life of Oum Kulthum, Neshat used the formula of a film within a film. She creates an additional character, an Iranian director in exile, who is supposed to shoot a biopic about the famous Egyptian. Introducing her alter ego to the story, she multiplies the duality and symmetry between characters and themes. No two things in the world are identical, however, and the cracks in the mirror add additional nuances to this well-thought-out biographical concept, which is suspended somewhere between fiction and reality.

Ewa Szabłowska

Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat is an Iranian director, screenwriter and artist who was born in 1957 and lives in New York. Known for her video installations, she won the main prize at the Venice Biennale in 1999. She studied at the University of California at Berkeley. Her first feature film, Women Without Men, was an award winner at the Venice Festival and also won a Women Film Critics Circle Award. Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017), directed along with Shoja Azari, is her second film.


2005 Zarin (short)

2009 Kobiety bez mężczyzn / Women Without Men

2011 Egypt in My Heart (short)

2013 Illusions & Mirrors (short)

2017 Szukając Oum Kulthum / Looking for Oum Kulthum

Shoja Azari

Shoja Azari was born in Shiraz, Iran in 1958. After moving to New York in 1983, he received a Master’s degree in Psychology from New York University. He met artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat in 1997, and they have developed a body of collaborative work, which includes video installations, short films and a multimedia theater piece. Azari created experimental and art house films, including an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s work, called K (2000) and a series of short films, Windows (2005). Azari and Neshat’s film Women Without Men won the Silver Lion for best director at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. Azari’s work has been exhibited globally, with solo shows throughout Europe and North America


2002 K

2006 Windows

2009 Kobiety bez mężczyzn/Women Without Men

2013 The King of Black (short)

2017 Szukając Oum Kulthum / Looking for Oum Kulthum

Cast & Crew

director Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
screenplay Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
cinematography Martin Gschlacht
editing Nadia Ben Rachid
music Amine Bouhafa
cast Neda Rahmanian, Yasmin Raeis, Mehdi Moinzadeh, Kais Kashif
producer Shoja Azari, Martin Gschlacht, Gerhard Meixner, Shirin Neshat, Roman Paul, Antonin Svoboda, Bruno Wagner
production Agora Films, Coop99 Filmproduktion, Doha Film Institute, In Between Art Film, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Noirmontartproduction, Razor Film Produktion GmbH, Schortcut Films, Vivo Film
language English, Arabic, Persian
colouration colour