Recommended for movie lovers with a social conscience.
Though Circumstance, a film from Iranian Director Maryam Keshavarz, doesn’t measure up to the exquisite Oscar nominated Persepolis (2007), which was in many ways an animated Iranian version of Juno (2007), it does succeed in providing the viewer with a window through which you can view life in Iran today. There is a clearly a smoldering cauldron of youthful resentment and frustration pulsating under the surface of the fundamentalist theocracy that has been in place since the Islamic Revolution, and it is valuable to see that all is not as it seems in a country largely demonized in the Western press.
Circumstance is at its best when it focuses on the rebellion of the well-educated Iranian youth who have created and maintained a counterculture underneath the nose of the Ayatollah and his fundamentalist moral police. They may dress in the traditional conservative garb in public, but things change dramatically when they return home or visit clandestine nightclubs. You see young people enthusiastically singing to rap music as they joyfully dance without inhibition in clothes that are no different than you would observe in lower Manhattan on any given night.
Circumstance’s plot centers on the friendship of two teenage girls, Atafeh and Shireen, who are as smart as they are attractive. But what they most share in common is that they refuse to accept things in Iran as they presently exist. They also are clearly sexually drawn to one another, something that would bring a death sentence in Iran if revealed publicly. Atafeh comes from a wealthy family of influence, as her mother is a physician and her father a music teacher. Shireen is clearly on much more shaky ground politically, as it is strongly suggested that her parents, former professors, have been executed for activities incompatible with the fundamentalist moral code controlling Iran. However, like young people around the world, they refuse to bend to the prevailing wind, and as a result are constantly put in jeopardy by a society that not only seeks to control beliefs, but conduct.
While the story unfortunately meanders to the point that it dilutes its otherwise powerful emotional impact, there are some golden moments. One of them involves a group of young people, including some gay Iranians and our two girls, as they clandestinely attempt to dub the film Milk (2008) into Persian. In the process, you see a young director yelling “Cut”, telling the young man dubbing in Sean Penn’s voice to “sound more gay.” When they try again, only to have the poor lad go way over the top with his affectation, the director again yells “Cut”, saying with a wry smile, “Not that gay.” As I said, Circumstance does have its moments.
Intended or not, the scenes involving the dubbing of Milk are bound to provoke reflections on life here in the United States. For like it or not, while homosexuals are forced to live under the radar screen in Iran, it is a sad but tragic fact that they continue to have to do basically the same thing here in many areas of our country, the self-proclaimed “land of the free, home of the brave.”
It is embarrassing as a Hoosier to acknowledge that Indiana is just one of many states that still treat gays as second class citizens, denying them the basic human right to marry. In addition, we have only recently eliminated the disgusting “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy in our military which prevented gays from honorably serving our country. Though we can condemn Iran all we want, the sad reality is that we share some shameful fundamental values with them.
What you also see unfold in Circumstance is the stark consequence to a society when faith triumphs over reason. When a radical Islamic fundamentalist like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the existence of The Holocaust and suggests that the American government was involved in 9/11, is that really much different than Republican presidential candidates like Perry, Bachman, Palin, et al, suggesting that evolution is just a “theory” and urging the teaching of “intelligent design”? When those same candidates attack the overwhelming scientific consensus supporting the dangers inherent with global climate change, can’t you hear their distant voices attacking Galileo with equal fervor?
As said earlier, Circumstance shines when it deals with the vigor and questioning enthusiasm of the youth in Iran today, and by extension young people worldwide. It’s not so much that they won’t follow the rules as they won’t follow those that defy reason and common sense.
For those that may question the assertion that youthful rebelliousness is nearly always demonized in the process, we really need to look no further than our own recent past where tens of thousands of young Vietnam War protesters were repeatedly scolded by our elders, “America, love it or leave it.” As the young people in Iran similarly dare to question authority, youth that are the strength as well as the hope for its future, Circumstance is a vivid reminder that we need to intelligently approach Iran with these brave young people in mind.