Sunday, August 28, 2011

Maryam Keshavarz's CIRCUMSTANCE: the Iranian "entitled" want some "freedom"

The wealthy family at the center of Maryam Keshavarz's quivering, queasy-making movie, CIRCUMSTANCE, would probably protest my use of the word entitled in the headline.And that's all right. (The entitled, after all, are those welfare queens and sick old seniors burying the U.S. deeper in debt, right?) The filmmaker herself, pictured below, might take umbrage, too, although I suspect she knows very well that her movie is mostly about Iran's entitled young people -- and their "friends" -- as they explore the limits of freedom in a fascist state enveloped by the burka.

How come our girls are not often seen in that partcular item of clothing? That's part of the entitlement. This is mostly all they know, and  you can't blame a novice filmmaker for showing us what she knows -- particularly when it is this exotic to foreign eyes.

Once  you get past the exoticism, however -- and this may be hard for some Americans and Western Europeans because it deals in forbidden sexuality (lesbianism!) in a Muslim country, and is handled with a good deal of artful flair -- you are left with a tale of youth under the thumb: of parent, brother, and government.

We've seen that tale told countless times on-screen, but because the Arab spring -- real or hyphed -- is so with us of late, the film often takes on an immediacy that is difficult to shake. Plus, the beautiful leading ladies (Nikohl Boosheri, above, left, and Sarah Kazemy, above, right), as well as the talented and broodingly hot young actor (Reza Sixo Safai, below), who essays the role of the brother, are all so visual-friendly, we could look at them till the cows come home.

Ms Keshavaz tell her small tale circumspectly and ripely. An exquisitely realized scene in the music room of a grand house sets the pace and place of the film quite beautifully. There is a visual rapture that the filmmaker brings to her treatment of, in particular, memory and attraction that makes her movie unusually vivid. Her camera lingers on the girls and their skin, at all angles, that is nearly soft, soft-core.
An interesting cultural/political conversation takes place among the kids in a videoroom in back of a barbershop, and later we see them "relaxing" at a rave. (Compare these kids with those Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows about Persian Cats.) The filmmaker allows us to see what repression does to the male of this culture, too, as the line "Give me you foot!" resonates on a level you would not have imagined possible.

At times the film seems to be asking the viewer, not to mention the culture here, to rethink what is sacred and what is profane. Brother Mehran, a kind of sick, avenging angel will no doubt stand in for what is "sacred" in fundamentalist mind but what is most profane in that of the humanist/feminist. In any case, the filmmaker clearly means him to be the villain of the year, and the actor more than rises to the occasion.

In both Mehran and his sister Atafeh (Ms Boosheri), the film finds its explicit critique of the entitled. Neither is good for anything much. Mehran, who might have made an acccomplished musician, moves from drug rehab into a sick, violent religious fervor, while Atafeh, fiery and disobedient,can do no more than finally subject her best friend and great love to a life of living hell.

Circumstance, from Roadside Attractions (running time 108 minutes) opened thus past Friday in the Los Angeles and New York City areas.  Click here to see complete city and theater listings..

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