Circumstance (2011)


Circumstance is the controversial debut by director Maryam Keshavarz, which won the Sundance Audience Award in 2011. The film has already had an impact on Iran – it has been banned by the national authorities and Keshavarz cannot return to the country for the forseeable future.

Circumstance follows the close friendship Atafeh and Shireen (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy respectively) in contemporary Iran. Laced with sexual tension, the film explores the country’s youth culture – illegal DVDs, drugs and rebellion – and how the girls’ rebellious actions respectively affect their families. Atafeh’s former drug-addicted brother Muhran (Reza Sixo Safai) gradually threatens the girls’ close relationship, as his increasing devotion to religion leads to an emotional climax.

Driven by the various culture clashes towards certain themes, such as sexuality, religion and the expected conformities of Iranian youth, the film could have been just about the relationship between Atafeh and Shireen but these underlying issues of Iranian culture enriches the film to something quite compelling.

The relationship between the two female leads is insightful: Atafeh is confident, rebellious and belongs to a close knit and wealthy family whereas Shireen is an orphan with a tainted past and is emotionally conflicted, not only by her sexuality and her feelings towards Atafeh but also by her family’s traditional expectations. Boosheri and Kazemy play the parts with conviction and the development of their burgeoning sexual relationship is courageous yet subtle.

Keshavarz provides her cast with a strong script, highlighting the taboos that go unspoken in the film. An example of this is Murhan and his increasingly obsessive nature; occasionally uncomfortable to watch, but it serves as a reminder to the fact that there is traditionalism instilled in Iranian culture – even though, in the eyes of some, there is a need for change.

Circumstance is a fascinating and perceptive drama with a refreshing take on modern-day culture clashes in the Middle East.

It would have been great to see a behind-the-scenes featurette or some of the initial reactions from Iranian press, but unfortunately there are no DVD extras to accompany the film.

Circumstance is released on DVD 24th September 2012.

Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Cast: Sarah Kazemy, Nikohl Boosheri, Reza Sixo Safai, Keon Mohajeri
Runtime: 107 min
Country: Iran, France, USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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