out of Five
Running time: 109
This Iranian drama depicting teenage sexual rebellion in contemporary Tehran has some strong performances, a thumping soundtrack and some eye opening themes but its occasional brashness tries too hard to shock.
What’s it all about?
Directed by Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance stars Nikohl Boosheri as Atafeh and Sarah Kazemy as Shireen, two ambitious teenage Iranian girls in a state of sexual and adolescent confusion. Set in contemporary Tehran, the two vivacious girls have succumbed to a silent rebellion of underground parties, recreational drugs and the odd handbag theft, experimenting with lesbian sex and dreaming of a move to nearby Dubai to escape the heavy boundaries of their wealthy home life.
When Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) returns from drug rehab, his unhealthy obsession and deep paranoia leads him to set up invasive surveillance cameras around the house to spy on the antics of the two tearaways. As Mehran’s hold on the family grows stronger and disturbs the family peace, Shireen and Atafeh are left with nothing but their bold and frustrating dreams of a big-city escape.
Cushioned by a pulsating soundtrack, Circumstance is a well-paced and sometimes seedy Iranian drama, with some eye-opening content and themes revealing a side of Iran’s underground culture that’s very rarely reported. Maryam Keshavarz’s is commendable in the writer and director’s seat, drawing from her own personal experiences as a young woman in Iran and extracting notable performances to produce a powerful debut feature film. Boosheri and Kazemy are both excellent as the sexually confused and defiant teenagers craving an escape from their suffocating home lives and Safai as the eerily unwholesome Mehran is menacingly good.
Despite some revelatory scenes breaking boundaries, some go too far to be experimental (Atafeh and Shireen’s depicted dreams of lesbian city nightlife are a little far-fetched and arguably unnecessary). American critic Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly in his review, which wished Circumstance had been more ‘low-key’ and had gone ‘slowly on the lush eroticism and cinematic voyeurism’. This statement couldn’t ring more true; a little more discretion and a little less brashness would certainly be welcomed.
Despite some occasionally frustrating scenes, Circumstance is a well-paced and well-directed Iranian drama with palpable substance. Worth a watch.