Our Rating: ★★★★☆
L Factor: Lesbian Film
Short Take: Love and life in oppressive Iran
Alternate Titles:
Year: 2011
Duration: 107 min
Language: France, USA, Iran/Persian
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Writer: Maryam Keshavarz
Starring: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai, Soheil Parsa, Nasrin Pakkho, Sina Amedson, Keon Mohajeri

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CircumstanceThe winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, Circumstance is writer/director Maryam Keshavarz’s first feature film. It has received a lot of attention for its portrayal of underground youth culture in Tehran, Iran and a story centered on the relationship between two teenage girls who defy the stifling religious and political rule.

Atefeh (Nikohl Boosheri) lives a comfortable life with her parents, an educated couple who allow their daughter freedom in the privacy of their home. Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) is her best friend, but lives a poorer life with her aunt and uncle after her university professor parents were “disappeared.”

The girls wear headscarves and burkas in public, but at night, they go to house parties and underground clubs where short skirts, experimenting with drugs, and making out with boys is the norm. Over time, they also fall in love. In a country in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies that gay people even exist, they are aware that theirs is a very taboo relationship.

Atefeh in particular feels the pressure of the oppressive atmosphere in which they live. Her brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) joins the “moral police” after perhaps being brainwashed in drug rehab. His surveillance puts the whole family in danger.

After the girls are arrested for helping to translate the movie Milk (about gay rights leader Harvey Milk) into Persian, Atefeh’s mother (Nasrin Pakkho) talks with her. She tells her daughter that, “Sometimes we have to accept our reality.”

The girls dream of fleeing to freedom, and although we see handholding and erotic embraces, the only real nudity in the film is in a dream sequence about being together in a Dubai hotel room. How will they ever be able to be with one another and live a life free of such repression?

Circumstance delivers a story that makes you feel both the lack of freedom and the frustrated rebellion of its characters. What would you do if faced with a life like that? How far would you go to be with the woman you love?

This film explores these issues and more and is definitely worth a watch. (AB)