Starring Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy. In Farsi with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, October 28, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
Take the reckless, hormonal surge of being 16 and mix it with the smothering repression of modern-day Iran and you have an explosive combination.
Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz’s powerful debut centres on two girls who face grave danger escaping their grim realities in Tehran’s underground-club scene—and the arms of each other. It’s a stunning allegory not only for what’s happening in Iranian society but for what’s driving the so-called Arab Spring.
The material is so risqué—and risky—that it could never have been shot in Iran (it was made in Lebanon), let alone be shown there.
What past Iranian movies like The Circle have had to make subtly implicit, Keshavarz makes brazenly explicit. Beautiful, sad Shireen (France’s Sarah Kazemy) is poor and lives with relatives who are trying to marry her off; her parents were executed for being dissidents. She finds solace in her vivacious friend Atafeh (Canada’s vibrant Nikohl Boosheri), who has a very different “circumstance”: her loving parents are well-off, educated, and secular. Atafeh and Shireen are deeply in love with each other in a country where acting on that is punishable by lashing or death. A sinister force close to home is also against them; Atafeh’s drug-addicted brother, Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), has just arrived home from rehab and has found his salvation by working with the morality police—even as he lusts after Shireen.
Almost every vividly shot frame is packed with meaning. In the distance of one scene, you notice men bounding into the ocean in their swimsuits while women broil onshore in their chadors.
The implications of Circumstance go far beyond the tale of two women. Seventy percent of Iran’s 70-million population is under 30, and the movie is a rallying cry for that massive army of youth—especially the women. The older, ruling generation is represented by the menacing Mehran, a symbol of the hypocrisy of the fundamentalists who punish others to compensate for their own moral weaknesses.
The real brilliance of Keshavarz’s moving film, though, is that it is also a hip and artful document of teen rebellion. It just so happens that the girls rebelling here are doing it by stripping their hijabs and long coats down to miniskirts or smoking cigarettes and singing along to blasting Persian hip-hop. And the consequences they face are infinitely bleaker than being, say, grounded or expelled.
Watch the trailer for Circumstance.