×

Circumstance

Certain to be discussed more for its daring depiction of a lesbian relationship in present-day Tehran than for its artistic merits.

With:
With: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai, Soheil Parsa, Nasin Pakkho, Sina Amedson, Keon Mohajeri. (Farsi dialogue)

Certain to be discussed more for its daring depiction of a lesbian relationship in present-day Tehran than for its artistic merits, writer-director Maryam Keshavarz’s “Circumstance” suggests a new way of showing stories about young Iranians even as it stumbles and falls over myriad narrative miscalculations. The account of young Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) falling in love with fellow schoolgirl Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) — before being pulled apart by events — will draw invites from fests including generalist and gay-lesbian events. Pic has been picked up for U.S. release by Participant Media.

Atafeh and Shireen are first viewed as typical Tehrani high schoolers, though Shireen encounters regular difficulties with authorities, being the daughter of two famed, now-dead parents who were harsh critics of the Islamic Republic. While Shireen lives with her uncle and grandmother, Atafeh enjoys a more stable nuclear family led by worldly, Bach-loving dad Firooz (Soheil Parsa) and adoring mom Azar (Nasin Pakkho), who loves singing nostalgic songs.

The girls know their way around the city’s underground party scene, where gatherings are held in private apartments or in warehouses converted into dance clubs. In these scenes, Keshavarz, shooting mostly in Beirut, Lebanon, captures contempo Iranian life more realistically than any current made-in-Iran film could: Here, when women enter a private interior, they remove their head coverings and even strip down to racy dresses.

Circumstance” moves even further afield from censored Persian cinema when the gals grow physically intimate, including vivid Dubai-set fantasies of frequenting lesbian bars and making love in lush hotel rooms. Such scenes will likely make the pic ineligible at most Mideast fests, but will set tongues wagging in the widespread Iranian diaspora community, where the pic is already a talking point.

Keshavarz’s script devolves into the ridiculous as it develops the poorly conceived character of Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh’s long-absent, hash-addicted brother, who suddenly turns up at home and just as suddenly nurtures an affinity for fundamentalist Islam. Incredibly, and without Firooz knowing, Mehran manages to install surveillance cameras in every room in the family house so he can spy on his “infidel” clan.

This, plus everyone’s astounding cluelessness about Atafeh and Shireen’s actual relationship, sends the film reeling into a nonsensical latter half. As Mehran’s power and influence grows over the family, “Circumstance” becomes a loopy piece of psycho-paranoia, in which all but Atafeh find no escape from the Islamic net, pushing the film further away from contempo Persian realities even as it aspires to show them.

Performances drift by the reel toward excessive melodrama, with Safai in particular saddled with an impossible role. Tech package is close to mainstream European standards, with d.p. Brian Rigney Hubbard working to modest effect in anamorphic widescreen. Gingger Shankar, great-niece of Ravi Shankar, manages some convincing Persian-style music, with a soundtrack sprinkled with such pop Persian faves as Andy.

Popular on Variety

Circumstance

U.S.-Iran-Lebanon

Production: A Participant Media (in U.S.) release of a Marakesh Films presentation. (International sales: Funny Balloons, Paris.) Produced by Karin Chien, Maryam Keshavarz, Melissa M. Lee. Co-producer, Antonin Dedet. Directed, written by Maryam Keshavarz.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Brian Rigney Hubbard; editor, Andrea Chignoli; music, Gingger Shankar; production designer, Natacha Kalfayan; sound (Dolby Digital); associate producers, Hossein Keshavarz, Carla Roley, Maryam Azadi. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 2011. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: With: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai, Soheil Parsa, Nasin Pakkho, Sina Amedson, Keon Mohajeri. (Farsi dialogue)

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content