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#30: Nasseredin Shah and his 84 wives

Directed by: Beate Petersen
2011 / 59 mins

In 1842 the 11-year-old heir to the Persian throne received a camera from Queen Victoria of England. In the following decades, he documented his life, revealing to the public eye what it was never supposed to see.

“Nasseredin Shah and his 84 Wives” is based on the photos taken by the Shah himself as well as by his court. With the addition of several animated sequences, it tells the story of the rivalry and intrigues within the harem, the murders, the corruption, the political power struggle, and of Iran’s troubled relation to Europe.

Women with moustaches, a self-indulgent king, an imperialistic England, and not at least, a beautiful calico cat, are the main performers in this documentary depicting the power struggles and intrigues in the Persian harem in the second half of the 19th century. The film focuses on an aspect that is all too often overlooked: that is, the influential role played by women in the origins of modern Iran.

The documentary is partly based on animated sequences made by Raiavin Studio in Tehran, and partly on photographs were taken by the head of the country from 1848 to 1896, Nasseredin Shah, and his court photographers.