Circumstance (3 stars)


A timely and worthwhile Iranian film somewhat let down by 2D storytelling

Developed with the help of the Sundance programme, writer/director Maryam Keshavarz’s debut feature exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of recent Iranian cinema. A romance between two well-heeled young women set against an oppressive backdrop of male-domination and state-control, Circumstance has an obvious arthouse appeal, but also suffers from narrative gaucheness in its depiction of the political and sexual struggles involved.

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) have an automatic chemistry; such illicit activities as lip-syncing to Bonnie Tyler’s 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' or dubbing Farsi dialogue onto a bootleg copy of the Sex in The City movie provide opportunity for sisterly bonding as well as a growing awareness of other cultures, crystalised by the girls’ dream of starting a new life in Dubai. But Atafeh’s bad-boy brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) has designs on his sister’s friend, and given his predilection for heroin and sexual violence, represents all the negative, constraining social pressures that the girls want to escape.

Circumstance has enjoyed a successful festival run since winning the Sundance audience award in January, building on the fresh accounts of Tehran’s underground party scene seen in Bahman Ghobadi’s No One Knows About Persian Cats, plus the coming of age themes in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Yet despite being politically charged, Keshavarz’s central characters are stock placeholders for audience sympathy, while Mehran’s household dominance via security camera surveillance provides a crudely obvious metaphor for state interference in family life. Circumstance bravely depicts the political plight of independent young women in Iran, a timely and worthwhile subject somewhat let down by two-dimensional storytelling.

Selected release from Fri 24 Aug.

Circumstance - Official Trailer [HD]


  • 3 stars
  • 2011
  • France, US, Iran
  • 1h 47min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Maryam Keshavarz
  • Written by: Maryam Keshavarz
  • Cast: Sarah Kazemy, Nikohl Boosheri, Reza Sixo Safai
  • UK release: 24 August 2012

A tentative romance between two well-heeled young Iranian women (Boosheri & Kazemy) is threatened when one of them attracts the unwanted attention of the other one’s violent brother (Safai). A timely and worthwhile subject somewhat let down by two-dimensional storytelling.