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2011 | 107 min | R



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Theatrical release date

 26 August, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

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Circumstance Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 28, 2011

“Circumstance” is an imperfect film with stunning components. Part cultural drama, part lesbian love story, the picture endeavors to explore the urges of personal freedom inside Iran, observing the bonds of family and religion, focusing on two young women faced with a dire future of subservience, forced to choose between stifling tradition and the need for rebellion, which soon melts into primal elements of desire. It’s a potent picture cursed with fractured storytelling, displaying lively imagery that registers more powerfully than its drama.

In Iran, teenagers Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) are silently rebelling against the religious oppression of the country, experiencing the pleasures of life in backroom clubs and intimate conversations, bonding as a force of supposed sin in a land with little regard for women. Born into a wealthy, liberal family, Atafeh is confronted with the return of brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), a former junkie who’s turned to radical Islam to purge his demons, soon joining a “morality police” squad. With Mehran’s behavior disturbing the family peace, Atafeh grows concerned about her wellbeing, finding matters further complicated by Shireen’s sexual advances. As the twosome attempt to comprehend their feelings and navigate outside interference, Mehran’s obsessive influence grows, leaving escape to Dubai the only option for these confused women.

Writer/director Maryam Keshavarz is quite skilled at creating a disconcerting mood for “Circumstance,” scripting a story that touches upon religious invasion, forbidden attraction, and life-altering personal choices. These are complicated parts shaved down to fit an erratic story, spotlighting an ambitious director who hasn’t quite learned the value of narrative focus. Subplots tend to wander, domestic logic is lacking, and there are a few leaps in characterization that jerk the intensity out of the film. Nonetheless, Keshavarz has a convincing story here worth telling. While certain elements of picture fail, as a whole, “Circumstance” maintains complexity of thought and fullness of desire.

Wisely, Keshavarz holds tight on her two stars, a pair of first-time actresses who provide the feature with vulnerability and a youthful sense of recklessness. “Circumstance” is built around the experiences of Atafeh and Shireen, two older teens from disparate backgrounds who’ve bonded as friends and have discovered a potential future as lovers. While Atafeh is branded a natural insubordinate due to her family’s wealth and power, Shireen uses the friendship to explore herself, taking to drink and flirtation as a way to taste forbidden fruit, while facing a dire future trapped in an arranged marriage. The women party in secret (often fantasizing about decadent lifestyles), they take part in a plan to fuel revolutionary thoughts by helping their friend dub “Milk” in Persian, and they tenderly explore each other, investigating forbidden sexuality. The performances from Kazemy and Boosheri are magnificent, stifling hysterics to play discovery as an unspoken language, a sensorial aspect of the picture emphasized by Keshavarz’s tight framing, with intense facial close-ups communicating more sensuality (Kazemy’s moist red lips are practically a supporting player) and terror than any dialogue could provide.

“Circumstance” gets a little carried away with Mehran’s invasive surveillance plans, though the creep of his harsh religious views into the family is a frightening development, handled with a distanced sting of shock by Keshavarz. To the filmmaker’s credit, the script doesn’t always head in expected directions, a fact reinforced by the feature’s mercifully blunt ending. “Circumstance” is a troubling movie without a direct impact. Instead, moments of dread are sanded down, leaving an uneven but intriguing atmosphere of repressed longing and fear, perhaps accurately representing the current emotional state of Iran.

Starring: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai
Director: Maryam Keshavarz

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