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Circumstance (DVD Review)

8 Dec, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Street 12/13/11
Box Office $0.4 million
$27.98 DVD
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content, language and some drug use.
In Farsi with English subtitles.
Stars Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safi, Soheil Parsa, Nasrin Pakkho, Sina Amedson, Keon Mohajeri.

In a perfect world, a story about two young women in love in Iran wouldn’t be unusual for a movie, considering Tehran was once deemed the Paris of the Middle East.

But that nirvana died in 1979 with the fall of the Shah and the rise of militant Islam — a rule that to this day rejects much of Western culture and instead implements a strict interpretation of the Koran (Islam’s holy book) and sharia (Islamic law).

Against this backdrop, teens Atafeh and Shireen (talented newcomers Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) escape the sexist boredom of totalitarianism in the banned underground club scene — resplendent with such Western influences as alcohol, hip-hop, drugs and lesbian desire, among other “vices.”

A notable scene features the girls and two male friends perusing a secret collection of DVD movies — including porn — hidden behind a barber shop. They joke about translating the movie Milk into Farsi (homosexuality is outlawed in Iran), and take turns voicing adult sex scenes.

The girls’ wealthy parents struggle to control their sexually rebellious daughters, in addition to accommodating Atafeh’s formerly drug-addled brother, Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), whose new sobriety includes zealous worship of Allah and Shireen — in that order.

Independent hit Circumstance (Audience Award winner at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) expertly melds a coming-of-age story with an ideological gulag where freedom of expression and thought (especially by women) is considered an affront both morally and literally.

Filmed in Beruit, Lebanon, by New York-educated writer-director Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance has as much an interesting a backstory as storyline — which is partially detailed in the bonus material.

What’s missing is how she cast the two female leads, considering the political fallout from the film (it’s banned in Iran). Indeed, the predominantly Iranian cast and crew still have families living there.

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