Maryam Keshavarz and Rexa Sixo Safai knew that making a film that was critical of the repressive regime running Iran would have repercussions, Both have family still living there that they might not be able to see again soon. When I spoke with them on May 3, 2011, that was the first thing I wanted to discuss with them. Safai, like Keshavarz thought it was worth the risk, and then went on to describe phone calls back to Iran from the United States during which his father would warn him to be careful what he said because someone might be listening in. They went on to descrive the similarities between Lebanon, where the film was shot, and Iran, as well as circumventing the censorship that the film’s frank depiction of same-sex attraction might have incurred.
CIRCUMSTANCE begins in a perfect world before being brought back to the reality with a thud. The perfect world involves the freedom of living an authentic life. The real world, modern day Iran, is a place where lies are the common currency of life, and to behave otherwise is to risk everything, even ones life.
Maryam Keshavarz’s debut feature film is a painfully acute study of the desperation of a country, using as the focus a wealthy family that has until now considered itself beyond the reach of the law. The parents Firouz (Soheil Parsa) and Aza (Nasrin Pakkho) marched in the streets to bring down the Shah and bring on the Islamic Revolution. Their children are not afforded the same opportunity to rebel in the open. Son Mehran (Resa Sixo Safai) turned to drugs. Daughter Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and her best friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) wear the hajib in public, but secretly sneak off to parties where sex, drugs, and rock & roll are enjoyed in bulk, and with the heady excitement of being forbidden. The careful order of family life begins to disintegrate when Mehran returns home to a loving family, but a fathers grave suspicions. Mehran begins to channel his frustrations, both with his fathers disappointment and his growing attraction for Shireen, into religion fanaticism, becoming a fundamentalist who refuses accept food from the hand of his sister because he considers her a loose woman. Loose, in this case, meaning one who is too Western. Shireen, for her part, has her problems with being the daughter of parents executed for their political crimes, and finds her consolation in her emotional intimacy with Atafeh. When their relationship turns physical, they daydream of that perfect world where they can be openly together, and plot with growing desperation their escape.
CIRCUMSTANCE is a beautifully constructed film that is as gritty as the subject matter, and as lyrical as the redemption and the peace its characters all seek.