Directed by Maryam Keshavarz. Starring Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai, Soheil Parsa, Nasrin Pakkho, Sina Amedson, Keon Mohajeri. (2011, R, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 16, 2011
Any film that employs Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to underline teenage Sapphic longings has one strike against it already, but the cookie-cutter clichés that plague Iranian director Keshavarz's debut feature are leavened considerably by the fact that the teens in question reside in Tehran – not a place where Bonnie Tyler has much of a following, one would think, except possibly among teenagers in heat. Tehran's a tough town to be young and in love in; it's made even more fraught when the lovers in question are the same gender.
Atafeh (Boosheri) comes from a wealthy, artistically inclined family. Her scraggly brother Mehran (Safai) has just returned home from a stint in drug rehab, but, as soon becomes apparent, his addictive personality – once trained on the keys of the family's Steinway – continues to writhe and poison from within. Atafeh's best friend and first love is Shireen (Kazemy), an orphan whose left-leaning journalist parents died at the hands of the Iranian regime. Like seemingly everything else in Iran these days, even school is something to be concerned about, as CCTV camera follow the students' every move and the burqa-clad headmistress remarks on Shireen's "questionable character."
Simmering beneath the status quo, however, is a Tehran pulsing with vibrant youth. An early sequence follows the girls as they attend a clandestine house party, complete with a secret password, thumping bass, and ecstasy of all kinds. Keshavarz contrasts that with a seaside frolic-cum-idyll that includes a haunting vision of a burqa-clad woman surrounded by Speedo-wearing menfolk. This sort of female inequality – the sheer effort it takes to be feminine in a theocracy, and the risks thereof – is at the heart of Circumstance. Its sappy, melodramatic overtones – Bonnie Tyler not included – can be overlooked, as this is as much a political statement as it is a love story.