The circumstances which the two girls in Circumstance find themselves struggling against are those created by the oppressive Iranian theocracy. Every single thing which they want to do as teenagers is deemed illegal by the ruling mullahs and enforced by the corrupt morality police. To circumvent the rules, they use secret code words and signals to sneak into underground parties where there is dancing between the sexes, drinking, and some recreational drug use. To add even more danger to their escapades, the girls, who are best friends, discover they are falling in love with each other which, if found out, could destroy not own their own, but their family’s lives in patriarchal Iran.
Atifeh (Nikohl Boosheri) comes from a wealthy and comparatively liberal family. Her father encourages training in music and does not openly support the mullahs. Atifeh’s brother, Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), is already a trained classical musician but is struggling against some personal demons. He has just returned home from rehab to get rid of a drug problem and finding himself adrift in sobriety, turns to radical Islam where he latches on to the morality police upsetting his family’s dynamic.
Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) is poor and lives with her aunt and uncle because the regime “disappeared” her university professor parents because they had ideas the mullahs did not appreciate. Her teachers jab her with snide remarks for her questionable character, her uncle just wants to find a suitor to marry her off to, and Mehran is showing some uncomfortable glances and awkward touches which Shireen does not want to return.
The odds are not with Atifeh and Shireen. Their society, government, and families have created circumstances which bind them to specific situations they do not want to be in. First time filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz shows the impact of Iran’s theocratic culture at the micro level focusing on two girls and their immediate family. The audience witnesses how dangerous it can be if one calls the wrong attention onto themselves. Unfortunately, Circumstance lapses occasionally into soap opera melodrama, especially towards the conclusion. Misunderstandings, tears, and confessions weaken its edge and the “us against them” atmosphere.
Since Circumstance focuses on an important and frustrating subject, it is still well worth the watch. The two female leads are convincing and daily Iranian life is shocking to those who are unfamiliar with its tenets. This film could never have been filmed in Iran not only because its mocks the regime, but because it shows male and female actors together and even touching; therefore, Lebanon had to take the place of an actual Iranian landscape. Perhaps, however, Circumstance will show up in the one of the back alley, illegal DVD shops which Iranians flock towards to find some real culture.