Monday, January 2, 2012


Rated:  R

Stars: Nikohl Booshen,  Sarah Kazemy,  Reza Sixo Safai

Director: Maryam  Keshavarz

Genre: Art House/Drama

Iran might be considered one of the more "progressive" states in the middle east, if you count the fact that women can show their faces,  and other TITILLATING patches of skin--such as elbows--in public. But that's misleading. What we in the west consider to be basic human rights--freedom of press, religion, sexual preference--still do not exist. The latter is explored in Circumstance, which I am ranking as one of the best films of 2011.

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheen) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) are two beautiful, sophisticated (by local standards) teenage girls living in Tehran. They wish only to be allowed to explore the mutual attraction they feel for each other without fear of reprisal.

Atafeh comes from a well-to-do family. She is an aspiring singer. She dreams of fame. Shireen is the orphaned daughter of political journalists who met a bad end at the hand of the repressive Islamic revolution--underscoring what's at stake here for the lovers. 

They party at underground clubs, shedding their mandated conservative attire to reveal  miniskirts beneath. Here they can dance, do dope, and explore their emerging sexuality with peers--JUST LIKE REGULAR TEENAGERS IN THE WEST!  

But there's a fly in the ointment. Atafeh's brother, Mehran, (Reza Sixo Safai) has recently returned home from a stint in drug rehab. Now he's embraced Islamic fundamentalism with a zealotry that shows in his eyes. The devious Mehran is the personification of all that is callous and hypocritical about repressive religious and/or governmental systems--he displays an almost too polite smile to his family members, while secretly filming their every move via a system of hidden cameras he has installed in their home--ostensibly to report any "improprieties" to the government's Morality Police.

Kazemy is a young, olive-skinned Angelina Jolie.  Boshen will remind you of a budding Laura Dern. Both are newcomers, but you'd never know it. They pull it  off, including most of their clothes for some tasteful yet convincingly steamy scenes together.  

Circumstance, from Iranian-American director Maryam Kehavarz, illuminates the ideological clash that exists in modern day Iran through the story of Atafeh and Shireen--their young forbidden love and the forces that work to pull them apart. Those same forces that made it impossible to produce or display a film as controversial as Circumstance in Iran.  Kehavarz assembled her cast and did the filming in Beirut, where the authenticity of the milieu remains intact.  

Grade:  A