This was the strangest and most erotic Iranian film that I have ever seen, and I’ll be honest and admit that the sexual content in the film threw me – you just do not expect that in a film from Iran.
“Circumstance” is about an upper-class Iranian family living in Tehran. Their son, Mehran, once an accomplished musician had fallen from grace recently due to an addiction to drugs, but he has come home to get himself back on his feet and in doing so, finds religion. Meanwhile their daughter, Atafeh loves life and partying and dancing with her best friend Shireen. They love attending underground dance parties in Tehran, which is quite unlike the image of society that is often portrayed in films.
Eventually the two girls fall in love with each other, but know that they have to be careful because it is just not accepted in Iranian society. It becomes worse when Atafeh’s brother starts to secretly film his family’s activities due to his “growing fanaticism”. Their relationship is further threatened when both girls are arrested by the “decency” police for attending a party, which ends up putting the whole family under a microscope. As life continues to constrict itself around her, Atafeh once a bubbly girl and full of life, has had enough and decides she wants to leave her country and live a better life.
As I mentioned earlier, this film has things in it that you just don’t see in your regular Iranian film. Sexuality, let alone lesbianism, is barely explored so to see it here, front and centre, is quite daring. As is the fact that the film has a couple of sex scenes in it, now granted they would appear tame compared to the cinema of the rest of the world (there is no nudity), but just their inclusion is very brave. Also the scenes of partying that were so full of life, are unusual in a film from this country. It is because of all these things portrayed in the film, that I thought that there would be no way that they actually filmed “Circumstance” in Iran, they just wouldn’t risk it. Since watching the film I have found out that it was actually filmed in Lebanon. This makes sense and explains a few problems I had with the film. The main problem I had was that it just did not feel like the city of Tehran. Now I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Tehran, but it just felt wrong, and probably more importantly it didn’t “sound” like Tehran. Something that I associate the city with is the constant noise of the traffic there, it has a distinctive sound, and although there is noise in “Circumstance”, it just didn’t sound right, it needed more, it felt too quiet.
While I really liked the performances from the two girls and the parents, I found the performance from Reza Sixo Safai as Mehran very distracting, as he had this ridiculous smile on his face the whole time and just looked really creepy.
This was the third and final “new” Iranian film that I saw at this year’s MIFF, and all three have a constant theme within which is they all have female characters trying to leave Iran in pursuit of a better life. The fact that all three films talk about this is quite damning for the country and the conditions its female occupants must live with. Compared to the other two films though, “Circumstance” felt the least of them. It just didn’t feel right and the filmmaking wasn’t as polished as the other two. Also some of the editing choices were baffling.
Overall, “Circumstance” wasn’t a bad film, but it just didn’t move me as much as it should have. I do commend it though on tackling the subjects that it did and on its bravery.