Circumstance – 3/5 stars

Circumstance is the controversial debut by director Maryam Keshavarz, which won the Sundance Audience Award in 2011.  The film has already had an impact on Iran – it has been banned by the national authorities and Keshavarz cannot return to Iran for the forseeable future.

Circumstance follows the close friendship Atafeh and Shireen (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy respectively) in contemporary Iran.  Laced with sexual tension, the film explores the country’s youth culture – pirated DVDs, drugs and rebellion – and how the girls’ actions affect their families.  Atafeh’s former drug-addicted brother Muhran (Reza Sixo Safai) gradually threatens the girls’ relationship, as his increasing devotion to religion leads to an emotional climax.

Driven by the various culture clashes towards certain themes, such as sexuality, religion and the expected conformities of Iranian youth, the film could have been just about the developing relationship between Atafeh and Shireen but these underlying issues of Iranian culture enriches the film to something quite compelling.

The relationship between the two female leads is insightful: Atafeh is confident, rebellious and belongs to a close knit and wealthy family whereas Shireen is an orphan with a tainted past and is emotionally conflicted, not only by her sexuality and her feelings towards Atafeh but also by what her family expects of her.  Boosheri and Kazemy plays the parts with subtle conviction and their burgeoning sexual relationship is insightful viewing.

Keshavarz provides her cast with a strong script, highlighting the taboos that go unspoken in the film.  An example of this is Murhan and his growing obsessive nature; uncomfortable to watch at times but it serves as a reminder to the fact that there is traditionalism instilled in Iranian culture however in the eyes of some, there is a need for change.

Circumstance is a fascinating and perceptive drama with a refreshing take on modern-day culture clashes in the Middle East.

Distributed by Peccadillo Pictures – more information can be found here.

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