Circumstance (2010): Nasrin Pakkho, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Safai, Nikhol Boosheri, Soheil Parsa - by Brian Rigney Hubbard

Film synopsis
Atafeh and her brother, Mehran, have grown up in a home filled with music, art, and intellectual curiosity. Atafeh dreams of fame and adventure, and she and her best friend, Shireen, explore Tehran's underground scene with youthful exuberance and determination to be themselves. Meanwhile, Mehran returns home from drug rehab, and renounces his former decadent life with a vengeance. His once obsessive practice of classical music soon finds more destructive outlets.

Having lost his parents trust, Mehran is jealous of Atafeh's loving relationship with their father and tries to find new meaning in his life. He relentlessly watches his family and slowly becomes estranged from them. As Mehran disapprovingly observes a budding relationship between Atafeh and Shireen, he becomes obsessed with saving Shireen from his sister's influence.

The once close siblings find themselves at dangerous odds with each other. As violence and desire collide, the once safe haven of the family home becomes increasingly claustrophobic and threatening.

2010 | 107 mins | Super 16mm | World Drama

Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Producers: Karin Chien, Antonin Dedet, Melissa M. Lee
Screenwriter: Maryam Keshavarz
Editor: Andrea Chignoli
Cinematographer: Brian Rigney Hubbard
Music:  Gingger Shankar
Production Design: Natacha Kalfayan
Production Co: Marakesh Films, A Space Between, Bago Pictures, Neon Productions
Cast: Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy Reza Sixo Safai, Keon Mohajeri, Sina Amedson, Nasrin Pakkho, Soheil Parsa

'Circumstance' is rated R. It has sexual content, strong language and some drug use.

Watch the trailer

Maryam Keshavarz talks about Circumstance

Film Review (7/14/2011)
The film is slightly inauthentic and the storyline is often clichéd. It could have focused just on the relationships but it is saturated with social and political messages. The film is daring but tries to do way too much. The script is flawed and illogical. The character of Mehran (Reza Safai) is not exactly believable. The film just doesn't work very well because he is so unconvincing. It's not his fault, the character is written so poorly for him. Mehrjui superbly showed the true character of a drug-addicted musician in Ali Santoori (2007). Mehran's character (Muslim fundamentalist, member of morality police, basiji and sexually inexperienced) is simply ridiculous in this film. The Persian term 'Haft Khat' (roughly translates to lover boy in English) is usually used to describe musicians in Iran. She may have been able to pull it off with casting a normal character for Mehran. Overall, the portrayal of Iranian men is neither accurate nor fair. The consummation of the marriage is truly like a rape scene. Bisexual Writer/Director Maryam Keshavarz is making a point that Iranian men are incapable of love or tenderness. She may argue that Rumi, Hafiz and Omar Khayyam are just ancient poets and contemporary Persian men are slime. The perverted taxi driver scene reinforces the point. Her work is reminiscent of the work of Tahmineh Milani who also grossly exaggerates to make her point. It's a case of Persian feminism distorting the truth about men and, indeed, women. Hence, male viewers may find this film to be disturbing and offensive. Finally, ordinary Iranians will have issues with this film because it mixes sex and religion in an insensitive manner. Was it really necessary to include religion as the main ingredient of the film?

Maryam Keshavarz (Marie M Keshavarz - b. June 9, 1975, New York) has always been a high achiever. She directed her first film 'Sanctuarye' with an all-girl crew in 2001. It was shown at numerous film festivals and won her the Steve Tisch Fellowship to attend NYU's graduate film program. She was a visiting scholar at the University of Shiraz and made the documentary The Color of Love (2003) in Iran which won wide critical acclaim. Most of her family members star in this insightful and wonderful documentray. Keshavarz participated in Film Independent's Screenwriter Lab immediately after graduation. She also attended the Sundance writers lab to write the script for 'Circumstance' with the help of her Amercian mentors. She received a SFFS/KRF grant for post-production for it. It's important to mention that Circumstance was supported financially by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. One could argue that 'Conspiracy' would be a better title for it. This film has borrowed plot, style and substance from successful American films like Personal Best and Sliver. On the other hand, it's a better effort than her brother's debut film Dog Sweat "Aragh-e Sagi" (2010). 'Circumstance' had a bigger budget (under $1 million), superior cinematic technique and flows much better. It was shot on super 16mm over 25 days in Beirut, Lebanon. A doctored version of the script was submitted to the Lebanese government in order to obtain authorization to film. The script was written in English, and later translated into colloquial Persian by a language expert. The translator practiced the dialogue and correct pronunciation with the cast who was composed of diasporic Iranians from North America, Sweden and France via Skype for over a year. Like her brother Hossein, she is not really fluent in Persian and speaks with a funny American accent. Inauthenticity isn't a major issue for this film. She has done a good job despite an ultra-low budget and constraints shooting in a foreign country. The film was 'technically illegal' and had to be smuggled out of Lebanon via Jordan and the UAE. Keshavarz had to break the law, lie and cheat to make her dreams a reality. She has stated that she had been repressed as a child by her religious parents. Unfortunately, they failed to instill good Iranian moral values in her.

The biggest problem is that the Iranian moral doctrine is absent in this film. It has broken many cultural taboos and is realistically awkward. 'Circumstance' reflects the high ideals of American morality (Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness). Ms. Keshavarz was born and raised in a Judeo-Christian society. While most religions only call for tolerance of sexual minorities, Hollywood has been stressing and promoting 'acceptance' for decades. This film reflects her American identity and the influence of her liberal mentors. By making this film about the rights of sexual minorities she insures her success in mainstream Hollywood. Her film is dreamy and mostly fiction. This report published by UNHCR is reality. The Persian word 'Barooni' was widely used in lieu of the word lesbian in Iran. Of course, sexual minorities exist in the Middle East but not in the same way as in the 'decadent West'. Incidentally, The issue of youth rights were explored skillfully in Panahi's Offside (2006). The film even included a girl with masculine characteristics. There are many myths in this film. For example, the girls dream of more freedom in the Arabian Gulf region. Dubai is actually a hub for human trafficking. Chances are high that Atafeh and Shireen would be sold to mega-rich Arabs for sex and lose their freedom forever.

Nowadays everyone is a filmmaker. One should visit Youtube to learn about the real Iran. Forget the big screen, the truth is in the shaky, noisy and out of focus short clips that people have posted online. Like Satrapi's Persepolis this film has a strong political message and is a cry for regime change. The reality is that another revolution would be like political suicide for our country and Iran may cease to exist. One must realize that the repressive government is only part of the problem. Iranian society is based on traditional values and attempts to modernize it have failed in the past. It would be foolish to expect Iranian men to behave like Europeans. Women may get sexually harassed or even raped if they dress slutty in the Mideast. Therefore, a government call for women to dress modestly would be logical. This has happened even in the heart of civilized Europe. There will be great resistance to social changes from ordinary people. So, it's in the best interest of everyone that the underground life of the youth in Iran remains hidden. Violence against women is a universal phenomenon. But in our region it's usually very harsh like acid attacks and other forms of mutilation. We have people who can get extremely violent for no reason and this has nothing to do with the government. Only small changes are possible in our neck of the woods. The cat and mouse game between the young Iranians and government "moral police" is a minor issue. A Suspension of capital punishment and other forms of harsh punishments (flogging, amputation, etc.) could solve most of our human rights issues.

'Circumstance' has received praise from most American reviewers with the exception of Variety's Robert Koehler who wrote a very critical review of the film. Ms. Keshavarz kept the project a secret for nearly four years. Her parents didn't have a clue of what she was working on. She is now married and expecting a baby girl. Keshavarz is working on a TV series about the last Harem of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar for an American Network. It's noteworthy to mention that a Pahlavi Era TV serial Soltan-e sahebgharan (1974) has already been made about him and his love 'Malijak' who was given the title of 'Azizossoltan' (Sultan's darling).

Related Links
Circumstance - 2010 (IMDB)
Marakesh Films
BBC Persian Review

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