A few weeks ago, I went with fellow Elliott residents to see a foreign film called Circumstance at the Athena Film Festival. Even though the festival is finished until next February, the film is no doubt available online somwhere. So rather than watching reruns of “Friends” when staying in on a Thursday night (though always a good choice), you might like to give this film a shot!
I really had no idea what it was about before I went, but was pleasantly surprised by what I saw and found it really thought provoking. Shown in its original Farsi, the film centers around the relationship of two girls living in modern-day Iran. Circumstance interweaves elements of sexuality, religion, age, and class status into a fascinating depiction of life in a religiously conservative country. The story follows two girls, Atafeh and Shireen (played by Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy, respectively) as they mature and come to terms with their sexual attraction and intense affection for each other. The story is also almost as much about Atafeh’s brother, Mehran (Rezo Sixa Safai), after he is released from a stint in rehab and increasingly joins the conservative religious Right. Relying more on visuals than dialogue, I found that I did not mind that the film’s usage of Farsi as it gave me a chance to hear the actors speak their native language in their natural environment.
It is important to know a little bit about history to gain a fuller understanding of the context in which the movie is set. In the 1950s, the Shah (King of Iran) abdicated in favour of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who then created a constitutional monarchy with a strong prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh. Under his auspices, Iran nationalized the country’s oil industry, making them government-owned and run enterprises. The U.S. and the U.K. did not take kindly to this decision and thus organized a coup d’état to remove Mosaddegh and re-install Pahlavi as Shah. The Iranian Revolution, although occurring decades later during the late 1970s, was in part a reaction against Shah Pahlavi who was western-backed and attempted to secularize Iran. The Revolution deposed the Shah and replaced him with Islamic religious law and Ayatollah Khomeini, an outspoken religious leader. Since his installment, Khomeini has maintained the strict religious conservatism that was won by the Iranians in 1979, the main year of the Revolution.
Now, back to the movie! Atafeh and Shireen live in a world torn between the young, who desire to learn about the West and live much like their English and American counterparts, and the religious conservatives who have killed Shireen’s parents: anti-revolutionary liberal professors. Iran is portrayed as a country with strict morals, especially regarding women’s sexuality, but with a seedy underbelly. The girls go to clubs-they party, drink, experiment with drugs and sex, but all of that seems somewhat normal. What really breaks boundaries is their conspicuous love for each other. Each one dreams of starting a new life together in “Dubai,” the supposed liberal bastion of the Middle East.
The movie, like anything else, was not perfect. It lacked a conclusive ending and the sparse dialogue left a lot up for interpretation. Despite these flaws, it was a truly eye-opening film. By the end I realized that though these girls live in what I thought was a completely different world, they are not very different from me. And for those in the LGBTQ community, the film is a must-see. You can check out the film preview here.