’Circumstance’ :: to be young, rebellious and gay in Iran
There’s an intoxicating moment in Circumstance, the new lesbian-centered, Sundance award-winning Iranian family drama. A group of young women and men, flush from their seeming success at defying their country’s authoritarian religious apparatus with underground raves and co-sexual dance parties, decides to smuggle in a film whose martyred protagonist is beyond the power of the mullahs to co-opt.
"We’ll dub ’Milk’ into Persian."
"They can’t copy a gay figure."
"We’ll pour into the streets together."
"I’ll take the role of Milk. You’ll be his lover, Diego Luna."
"It isn’t about fucking, it’s a human rights movement."
"Fuck all the mullahs who shit all over this country!"
We see the bigger-than-life image of Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, exhorting a sea of extras (including your intrepid critic) in front of Harvey Milk Plaza to remember how angry they are. One can only imagine the real Harvey’s delight at the notion that his Hollywood-created doppelganger would someday lead a cinema revolt against foes far more insidious than white-bread American homophobes.
In the belly of the beast
Director Maryam Keshavarz plants her 16-year-old, girl-loving heroines firmly in the belly of the beast: 7th-century worshipping, 21st-century pop/tech-obsessed Tehran. How do young lesbians survive in a society lubricated by theology, bribes and arranged marriages? The wealthy Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) finds a willing playmate in orphan Shireen (Sarah Kazemy). At first, the girls bond harmlessly around swimming, singing and underground dance clubs. Trouble comes knocking in the form of Atafeh’s formerly drug-addled brother Mehran (handsome Reza Sixo Safai, deliciously smarmy in the manner of a young John Cassavetes). Mehran’s insidious video espionage on his family reminds us of early Atom Egoyan. Keshavarz deftly dissects the fault-lines in a wealthy, secular-leaning family whose Berkeley-educated dad has created a lovely bubble, a bourgeois utopia which at first seems impervious to the mullahs’ morality police.
Fed up with the humiliating short leash of Dad’s urine tests and weekly allowances, Mehran finds an alternative Dad at the mosque, the morality-squad chief, who disarms the troubled young man with charitable acts and the promise of a new life with property and a coerced marriage to his sister’s girlfriend.
Taking good advantage of the outlaw status of her tiny undercover production, with Beirut standing in for Tehran, Keshavarz shows how well-intentioned idealists like Atafeh’s American-educated dad can be tricked and bullied into constructing a life for their kids that is little more than a techno-embellished prison. Towards the film’s end, Atafeh takes a last, nostalgic hike into the country with her now beaten-down father. Looking back at the religious-dictated shackles of a birthplace she will soon flee, Atafeh bitterly addresses him. "You created this world for us with that revolution of yours. Now we are forced to live under these circumstances."
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Watch the trailer to "Circumstance":