Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Starring: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai
Language: Persian, English
Duration: 107 min.
Atafeh and her brother, Mehran, have grown up privileged, in a home filled with music, art, and intellectual curiosity. While Atafeh dreams of fame and adventure, and she and her best friend, Shireen, explore Tehran's underground scene with youthful exuberance and determination to be themselves, her brother returns home from drug rehab, renounces his former decadent life, and replaces his once obsessive practice of classical music with more destructive pursuits.
Circumstance is the debut feature film from writer and director Maryam Keshavarz, a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Dramatic Audience Award.
Set in modern day Tehran but filmed in Beirut, Lebanon, it is the story of two teenage girls from different backgrounds, Atafeh (Mikohl Boosheri) the daughter of an affluent family, and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) an orphan whose parents were political dissenters, best friends who fall in love amidst an oppressive and intolerant society.
Keshavarz displays a keen visual eye, for it's a stylish, and at times an incredibly sultry, and sensual film that unravels with passionate scenes of stolen touches and sly caresses. The handheld camera positioned ever so close, on long lingering glances, and dimly lit shots of bare skin, lips, and fingertips, creates a fantasy world where the characters escape to be free. Additionally there are several unnerving shots, introduced without explanation, seen from the vantage point of closed-circuit cameras, the implications of which are not revealed until late in the story, but create some effective tension early on.
As a love story same-sex or otherwise, this doesn't really offer anything original aside from its setting. Young forbidden love complicated by familial and societal expectations, that's a story we've seen time and time again. So the director tries to mix it up by involving subplots of the girls getting involved with underground political activism, and Atafeh's older brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) overcoming a drug addiction and becoming a 'born again' Muslim. A ploy that backfires, because the film then gets torn between being either a tragic youthful romance, or an overt political message, and it ends up succeeding at neither. Eventually squandering the wonderfully erotic aura built up in the opening third, with lazy and unconvincing melodramatic plot turns. Also, unlike the vastly superior A Separation, you never feel like this is an accurate portrayal of real people or real life in Iran, but a slick fictionalized movie representation of it.
Still, Atafeh and Shireen's relationship is developed and played very convincingly, and the on-screen chemistry between the two actresses is both sweet and sizzling to behold. This also comes across as a very personal story and subject for the first time director who shows some promise but hasn't quite yet hit the mark.
— Bonjour Tristesse