CIRCUMSTANCE is a brave film from the respected filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz who both wrote and directed this film about contemporary mores and cultural taboos in Iran. It is a film that dares to create a story about family, the youth culture of clubs and drugs and all night music, about the Morality Police who carefully guard the standards of public (and private!) behavior, and about same sex liaisons. It is a beautifully photographed study of star-crossed lovers who happen to both be young teenage girls and the manner in which they cope with their love and with the family and world outside the sanctity of their breathtakingly erotic moments together. Because of the lack of sanctions of the themes of the film which is supposedly set in Tehran the film had to be shot in Lebanon: knowing this adds to the impact of the drama the film so carefully exposes.
Since any public expression of passion is forbidden between Keshavarz's two teenage female protagonists, it brings a whole other level of tension and dread to their shared attraction. Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) has the resources and security provided by her wealthy family that allows her to live a double life with her friend and eventual lover, Shireen (Sarah Kazemy). In order to fully explore their feelings, the young women escape into their fantasies of living in a more enlightened land such as Dubai, a haven which is tantamount to Oz. The life of teenage love is difficult enough, but it is even more difficult if that love is between two members of the same sex. Apparently Iran is a country where homosexual relationships can be punishable by death. Atafeh lives in a family of wealth and privilege with her parents (Soheil Parsa and Nasrin Pakkho) and brother, Mehran, (Reza Sixo Safai). Shireen is not of the same class: she lives with her Aunt and Uncle after being orphaned by her parents who were killed by the government for their immoral ways. Atahfeh and Shireen are two teenage school girls who begin as best friends and gradually discover that they are in love. The girls are also rebellious to Iran's strict religious and socialist ways, being caught up in Tehran's underground nightclub scene. Mehran, a former musician and drug addict, has become a radical Muslim and informant for the Morality Police, installing cameras in every room of his home to spy on his family, capturing all the comings and goings of each member of the household, including the trysts between Ayafeh and Shireen, and devises a plan with the Morality Police to marry Shireen after she and Atafeh are arrested by the morality police for partying at a night club. The young lovers discover the circumstances that force them into lives away from each other and the decisions they make (or are made for them) form the conclusion of this haunting film.
Apparently there is great resentment from many Persian viewers who feel the film does not project the real situation in Tehran or in Iran as a whole. This may be true, but the film is not a documentary: Keshavarz has taken an idea and molded with certain flavors and spices and delivers this brave little film by introducing the extraordinary beauty of the two leading actresses. The cast is solid and if the script could use some editing or re-sculpting it still delivers a concept about same sex love and the lack of acceptance that seems to be global. We rarely are able to see Persian films and this one is well worth attention. It is not meant to be factual: it is a story exotically told - and memorable. Grady Harp, January 12