UPDATE: Circumstance just won the US Dramatic Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Though it’ll probably never play in the country in which it’s set, attendees at the Sundance Film Festival were lucky enough to see Maryam Keshavarz‘s debut feature Circumstance. Hopefully soon, you will too. Set in modern day Tehran, Iran, this beautiful film focuses on two attractive high school girls named Shireen and Atafeh, played by Sarah Kazemy and Nikohl Boosheri, both making their acting debuts. Though the girls live in a country where women are treated as second class, Shireen and Atafeh use their good looks, talents and smarts to live life as free as humanly possible. The friends eventually develop feelings for each other but when Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) comes home, the girls’ liberal point of view is doomed to be challenged.
Circumstance is an increasingly claustrophobic #Love story set against impossible odds told with a frightening cultural context. Of the thirty plus films I’d seen at Sundance before it, it was the first film to get a legitimate standing ovation.
Living in the west, it wasn’t for the film’s pop culture references and modern technology, one might guess Circumstance was set in the stone age. Important scenes featuring American Idol, Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Sex and the City let us know that even in 2011, women in Iran aren’t treated fairly. They can’t go into the ocean, can’t show skin, can’t smoke and need male permission to do almost anything. Watching the film with a western viewpoint, that knowledge makes Shireen and Atafeh’s friendship incredibly satisfying. They’re living within this unfortunate set of rules but still decide to be rebellious. They party, drink, hook up with guys and eventually get in trouble for it.
Keshavaraz, who both wrote and directed the film, has drown it in sexuality, showing the girls at their most emotionally and physically vulnerable. Because the audience feels so attached to them, as their circumstances (get it?) begin to grab hold and lead them down an terrible road, we feel increasingly worried that it won’t all work out. We’re in love with them just as they’re in love with each other.
Circumstance is too good to not eventually get a general release. Yes, it draws you in with the promise of beautiful lesbians (as we, too, did with our headline) but that quickly wears off, leaving you angry at the oppressive nature of Iran and feeling very fortunate that we’re as free as we are.