Arguably a natural progression from her freedom-focused 2004 directorial debut, The Colour Of Love, Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance is a political yet personal account of two young girls’ strongly frowned upon love and their longing for acceptance in a place where women are making significant progress in regards to wealth and stature.
A fascinating and often very fun insight into the lives of school friends Ati (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), Circumstance has a lot to say about Iran’s corrupt use of influence and money, but this is woven in as an accepted part of everyday life instead of as a way to make a damning and shocking condemnation of the Iranian system.
For a film with little physical conflict, Keshavarz surprisingly maintains an underlying sense of threat and tension to proceedings, never letting you feel too safe in the girls’ happiness, displaying her more than adequate ability to balance fear with youthful bliss. And, though her two female leads are very different, they are equally as appealing.
Where Ati is a joker and full of confidence, Shireen is initially much more of an introvert than her friend, following Ati to parties and her family’s personal situation a far cry from the easy and comfortable life Ati’s parents are able to give their daughter. However, Shireen is beautiful to the point of distraction and this doesn’t go unnoticed by Ati’s older brother, Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), who is quietly dealing with demons of his own. But Shireen’s eyes are fixed firmly on Ati, and the relationship in question – though tender and sometimes childishly adorable – has real depth, with seediness replaced by the utmost sensitivity and sweetness.
Their young love affair may appear to spring from nowhere, but we soon learn why the pair must work so hard to keep any potential romantic feelings hidden from a wider audience and, namely due to Boosheri’s emotional and very self-assured performance, you are guaranteed to feel their pain.
Though Circumstance focuses more intently on the love at its centre than the specifics of the surrounding political goings-on, the Iranian laws are still portrayed as suffocating. But Keshavarz leaves breathing space for fun to be had with the parallels drawn to the girls’ plight and the much bigger American homosexual struggle of Harvey Milk and the film starring Sean Penn. This may be a rather literal example of how the stigma attached to homosexuals and lesbians has been rife throughout different decades and continents, but their want to dub the film for an Iranian audience shows a young generation’s need for a voice while also making way for the film’s funniest scenes.
When noting that Ati’s mother is a surgeon, we realise that it is sexuality that is taboo in the girls’ world, not female progression, and, though Circumstance may miss out on making a truly startling political point, Keshavarz’s film is a thoroughly enjoyable and tautly executed tale of young love, forbidden fruit and the world previous generations leave behind for us.