Sunday, January 1, 2012

Circumstance (2011)

Circumstance is a difficult movie to explain to someone who hasn't seen it yet. Not only because there's always that risk of giving away too much but also because it's filled with subtle hints and hidden meanings. Before I begin, I must add, that the movie did not score too high on my liking bar. I've read about this controversial story way before I actually saw the movie. Iran was fuming with the two actresses and the disgrace they have earned. Not surprising, since everything they show is basically demeaning to their culture.
The story seems quite simple and has a lot to say about women's lives in Iran. The main protagonist is Atafeh, a girl from a rich family, who seems to be quite a bit more permissive than a regular Iranian family might be. The girl is a teenager and clearly a very hormonal one at that. Her best friend is Shireen, an orphan girl of dissident parents, living with her (obviously very orthodox) uncle. She is constantly stigmatized because of her parents and therefore also a bit more reserved and pulled together than Atafeh who seems to have a nonchalant attitude towards the fact that her parents are less traditional in the sense that they listen to western music and drink wine at home, all the while speaking freely amongst themselves but never sharing that with the outside world.

But Shireen is a regular with Atafeh's family, they basically do everything together. Some time ago Atafeh's family was shaken by her brother's addiction which led to rehab and finally a return of the (once prodigal) son who has fallen from grace. A former lover of music and a promising musician is now not interested in the beautiful sounds but in the proper living of everyone in his family's household, in abiding by Muslim laws. The measures he goes to keep everything under control turn from slightly creepy to shocking and deeply disturbing but are kept as a very carefully and successfully guarded secret of his own.
The coming of age story of two girls who are companions, friends and lovers, paints the picture of contemporary Tehran (shot in Lebanon), where men can swim in their swimming trunks while women must sweat in their long clothes, covering almost their entire bodies, and wait for them on the beach. A story where Sex And The City and Milk are not available on DVDs and where secret underground dubbing of those is a risk, bigger than we can ever imagine. But this is more than a story of underground Iran, where sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are easily available. Hell, throw in some alcohol for good measure. It's a story of where a woman can be safer wearing a mini skirt in a big club, full of sweaty men, grinding against her than by herself, covered with a hijab, in a taxi going home. If you are found and accused by the moral police, your penalty and jail time might not be the worst thing to happen to you. The punishment of your family, the payback for the disgrace you caused them, might be far, far worse.

And despite knowing all this, these two girls cannot help themselves but be - girls. Young, happy, carefree. Unaware of a daunting obsession of a person close to them, oblivious of someone's malicious plot that they are entangling themselves into, heedless of watchful eyes, drinking in their every move. Their erotic fantasies of a life together somewhere in Dubai are cut off in one very carefully calculated slash that they never once see coming.
No matter their dreams, wishes or desires, they are victims of their circumstances. Their love falls prey to social rules, takes a back seat in the car of life. The melodrama that is present all through the movie, is at times a bit too much. It seems that the director was trying to put every single stereotype about Iran into this picture and to add as many threads of different stories as possible. Most likely has a lot to do with the fact that the director is Maryam Keshavarz, a woman, born in New York to Iranian parents. She spent most of her life in USA, but studied in Iran for one year. Despite the fact that she has Iranian background, I at some points did not find the movie convincing or finishing all threads that were undone, causing plot holes. More so, while watching, I felt that the director cannot possibly be Iranian. Which says a lot about the movie. It's obvious the actresses cannot be living in Iran or they would probably be punished severely after filming this movie. The final choices of their characters did not make a lot of sense, seemed rash decisions and poorly made at that. Despite the fact the movie raises a lot of very, very important issues, not everything is good simply because it's Middle Eastern, different, bold or groundbreaking in its topic. It takes a spark.

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