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Movie Review: Circumstance

Posted September 3, 2012 by Will Fitzgerald in 2011


Ramp Rating


Stars: , ,
Release Date: Aug. 31st


An exciting directorial debut


Has a lot of balls in the air and loses focus in places

Iranian cinema is so hot right now! And this debut from Iranian American director Maryam Keshavarz is no exception.

by Will Fitzgerald
Full Article

Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance last year, Circumstance centres on Atafeh and Shireen, teenage girls living in Tehran. They share a love that dare not speak its name in the Islamic state of Iran but they attend underground parties and DVD stores where they can dress with abandon and seek entertainment that is unfettered by religious censorship. There is a glimpse of an Iran that could almost pass for a place where you can have some semblance of ‘normal’ teenage years, but before long the unwelcome presence of Iran’s morality police makes itself known, and the extremist Islamic regime creeps its way further into the girls’ lives when Atafeh’s brother Mehran embraces religious zealotry.

Circumstance is Keshavarz’s debut and it has a lot going on. Ultimately, the girls’ burgeoning romance is the most unremarkable aspect of the film. Of far more interest are the ramifications of their differing economic statuses, their attempts at rebellion through pop culture and the transformation of Mehran from recovering addict to religious zealot and voyeuristic sadist.

Atafeh comes from a wealthy family with progressive thinking parents while Shireen lives with her uncle and grandmother who are keen for her to be married. Atafeh is definitely the more free-spirited of the two, but coming from a background of wealth and some influence, she can afford to be. One wonders if maybe for Atafeh, the entire affair with Shireen is simply another manifestation of her rebellious nature. Shireen stands to lose a lot more than Atafeh if caught behaving inappropriately. This leads to a schism in the girls’ friendship later in the film which is more intriguing than their romance, the gravity of which we are expected to feel simply because it is forbidden.

Having until recently been the screw-up of the family, Mehran is seduced by the power and influence offered by religious zealotry. Mehran’s transformation gives Circumstance an almost psychological thriller flavour. Not only does it make for a more interesting family dynamic, having understanding parents and a rehabilitating brother as the source of stifling conservatism, but it really underscores the intrusiveness of the mullahs’ regime into their home.

Circumstance has a certain amount of gloss that has been criticised and the desire to be the next American Idol or watch Sex and the City in Farsi may pale in comparison to the loftier ideals expressed in other Iranian films. However, the leads are two sixteen year old girls and freedom from oppression also means the freedom to go clubbing, watch trashy TV and film your sex scenes in lush and sensuous style. Besides, the harsh realities of life for a woman in Iran are still present and still pack a punch that isn’t trivialised by the film’s shiny veneer.

About the Author

Will Fitzgerald

Film freelancer and comics enthusiast, Will tried to coin the term 'quarter-life crisis' but a younger, more successful twenty-something beat him to it.

  • Jennifer_McShane

    Super review Will, I’m adding this to my ‘must see’ list.

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