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CIRCUMSTANCE

 

The political "Circumstance" tells the story of Iranian teenagers Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who rebel against the censorship and constraints of their country. The two attend secret nightclubs, ditch their proper wear for nightclub clothing, and even have dreams of the glamor of Hollywood.

 

Soon into their story, they start to have a friendship that also goes beyond a typical partnership, and especially those allowed by the morale police etc. Basically, their friendly love for each other reaches a physical level, and seems to mix with the repression of all of their general desires. They say they love each other, and express such admiration with kisses and shared dreams of going somewhere hip (like Dubai).

 

Quietly witnessing these rebellious events is Atafeh's brother Mehran, (Reza Sixo Safai). Hes just returned to the wealthy family as a former troubled black sheep, and has taken up religion and other conformities as his saving grace.

"Circumstance" loses a bit of its speed from its two lead performances, neither of which carries any spectacular emotional weight (or look their supposed age of 16-ish). The two work best in the very last scenes of the movie, in which the dire need for a change feels the most desperate.

 

Boosheri spends a lot of her time as a Atafeh, it seems, observing, yet with the same glance. She's just watching things happen to her and around her. When Shireen is taking pills at a nightclub, she just watches. When her brother is courting Shireen, she just watches, etc. This can work nicely as a metaphor in some cases, but in others it feels like it could even be chalked up to lazy blocking by the director.

 

The film's best performance comes from Safai, who gives the oppressive Iranian customs a stone-cold, villainous presence that constantly looms over the girls. The character of Mehran also has the most compelling character structure, as he's an ex-drug user, general troublemaker, who decides that the best way to rebel against his "disorderly" rebel parents is to conform to the rules he once abandoned.

 

With such ruminations on rebelliousness, "Circumstance" creates a sense of chaos, and a wheel of rebelliousness that doesn't seem to be leading in any productive direction. One of the movie's best lines prominently features its title, and happens during an interaction between Atafeh and her former political activist writer father. After he tells her that he was basically just like her, getting into trouble and testing the limits of government control, she begrudgingly states, "You create this world for us now we live in these circumstances."

While some of the visuals in the movie might be strong in the context of regular Iranian cinema content, they are still marred by a general over-usage of slow motion. In some cases the visual technique just feels gratuitous. Even a game of volleyball is shot at the same speed as a tender physical moment between the two girls.

 

However, the sequences of sexual contact between the two rebellious Iranian girls are still shot with a careful eye, and are more focused on sensuality than anything deemed pornographic (in America, at least). "Circumstance" pays particular attention not to PG-13 body parts, but faces, and gives its tenderness a unique edge with its recurring close-ups of mouths.

 

"Circumstance" has some dull moments that can contribute to a sludgy 109-minute experience. A sequence in which Atafeh's family takes a trip to the beach feels overlong (especially with the aforementioned slow motion). Some of the interactions between Atafeh and Shireen lack any bite from dialogue or emotional strength. Some sequences, (like long trips to the club) feel like they are more focused on stirring the pot with risque visuals than providing the story a steady storytelling speed.

 

"Circumstance" makes one of its more fulfilling political statements in a scene that involves the dialogue dubbing of Gus van Sant's "Milk." Both as a clever nod to gay rights and to general political anger, the scene features the two girls and two guys as they dub in Persian the scene in which Sean Penn's Harvey Milk says, "I know you're angry. I'm angry too." We see them stand in front of a big screen, as their bodies are blanketed by the image of Penn delivering his speech.

It's essentially the movie stating its thesis, and in a way that's more clever or interesting than just watching its characters break through "morality police" taboos. While the whole movie might always focus on stirring debate or causing outrage than telling a solid story, this is a moment in which "Circumstance's" inspiration comes off as truly artful.

 

The political anguish of this controversial Iranian film is more pronounced and effective than its drama, whether you choose to take it as a romance being pulled apart, or as two repressed friends struggling in a manipulative environment.

 

"Circumstance" is the type of the movie where you're likely to feel its outlying outrage more notably than its central heartbreak.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association

 

NICK ALLEN

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