Atafeh (Nikhol Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) are teenagers living in Tehran. Shireen lives with her uncle and it is strongly implied that her parents left Iran due to their “subversive” ideas. Atafeh is from a well-to-do Ismaili family, to accomplished professional parents. For fun, her father tests her knowledge of classical recordings (Pablo Casals is a particular favourite, it seems). Her older brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) is a former junkie, fresh from detox, who has discovered Allah. Atafeh and Shireen fall in love and dream of escaping their circumstances, fancying not only each other but a life together in Dubai. Meanwhile, Mehran’s rehabilitation has given way to an increasingly fundamental point of view, one worlds away from his old party days. Coupled with his growing erotic obsession with Shireen, he becomes more dangerous as he grows increasingly sure of himself in his new identity, and suspects that the girls are up to something in private. The girls also have regular clubbing friends, including two closeted gay men, one of whom is intent on dubbing Milk into Persian for distribution on the black market.
This is a film on contemporary Iran and the dichotomy between the outward display of conservative values in public, contrasted with the exciting underground nightlife that can only be accessed with passwords and subtle nods of the head for the initiated. This underworld is dancing on a knife’s edge, as the morality police could swoop in at any moment, ready to make arrests and shut the joint down.
That this is Keshavarz’s directorial debut, one filmed in secret in Beirut and with a powder keg of a subject matter, makes this an even more remarkable accomplishment. The actors and creative team, all of whom are from Iran or of Iranian descent, made "last visits" to their homeland, because once the authorities see this film, they may never be allowed to return to Iran without facing serious penal consequences, all of which are legally sanctioned. That, folks, is dedication and absolute fearlessness.
|Director Keshavarz with the cast, receiving the Sundance|
Audience Award in January 2011
Circumstance opens in limited commercial release today in Vancouver, having enjoyed a healthy run in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto in the last few weeks. For more information, check out the film’s website and this thoughtful New York Times article. The website lists five things you can do in a checklist to build awareness of the film, and to raise awareness of this pressing issue of human rights. Given that creating art in certain parts of the world can lead to consequences as grotesque as this, sometimes making make-belief hits a little too close to home.