On entering the exhibition, the first thing you notice is the sound of pleasant and muted voices emanating from the monitor. Then you notice the film itself – a black-and-white comedy about bureaucracy. It is a video loop in several episodes. The film, like the everyday workings of the bureaucracy, can start and finish at any random point. Here are a few excerpts:
Woman’s voice: "I’m supposed to hand this letter in here ".
Man’s voice: "We’re closed today. Move along, please."
Woman: "I’ll come back tomorrow. "
Man: "Just take a seat like everyone else."
Woman: "He’s seen us. There’s somebody behind the tree."
Man: "Are those two women still there?"
Woman: "They always send the same guy."
Man: "Go to the screening booth first. And take off your shoes."
Woman: "But the shoes stink."
Man: "Sit up straight."
Woman: "... how can he stand the smell?"
Man: "With respect, madam. There’s no point in waiting."
Woman: "Do you think he’s an informant too?"
Man: "In the name of God, this meeting is declared open. Here are the documents you requested. You may read them, but you may not take them with you."
The film is dubbed with German voices that sound, appropriately, as though they were reciting Kafka. But these are scenes from life under the Ayatollah regime in Iran, where bureaucracy is in many ways the same as it is everywhere: the disinterest and arrogance of the bureaucrats, their expectations of humility, their attributes of officialdom and masculinity – in this case, in the Islamic variation of turban, beard, chain and desktop pennant. But something is different; something that adds a touch of humour. It is the persistence of the petitioner, her hint of resistance and its incompatibility with the system.
Parastou Forouhar has woven her own personal experience into this film. Schuhe ausziehen is more than just a humorous take on bureaucracy. It is also a visual essay about her own endeavours to gain access to the files on the murder of her parents during a wave of political assassinations in Iran. Parastou Forouhar’s parents were prominent opposition politicians. They were stabbed to death in their home in Teheran on 21 November 1998.
Text by Prof. Dr. Hermann Pfütze translated by Ishbel Flat