Revolving around a rich and politically – and personally – liberal Iranian family, we focus on teenage daughter Atefah (Nikohl Boosheri). On the cusp of sexual awakening, she falls for her best friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy). The two become involved and as they struggle to find acceptance they begin to rebel. But as her elder brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) returns home, and once again into the family dynamic, he feels estranged. Battling a drug addiction and with a family who doesn’t seem to understand his now devout Muslim beliefs, he also turns his eyes to the beautiful Shireen.
As a coming-of-age film dealing not only with the idea of sexual identity but sexual identity in a very specific type of society, Circumstance is incredibly well handled. Keshavars beautifully intimate love story is, at all times, the most emotionally raw and successful trait the film trades off. The two leads sell both the confusion as well as the community pressures of their feelings; unfortunately as the film continues, and Mehran’s obsession and motivations become more evident when one character grows and the other breaks down, I felt that fade somewhat.
A nice choice by the director is never making it feel too provocative, rather looking at love than lust and experimental sex, everything is suitably characterised within the boundaries of the girls and their age, as well as their upbringing. And although born in the States, where she spend most her life, Keshavarz has made this, somehow, feel very personal which only creates a deeper investment in the film’s character.
As an against the grain love story, Circumstance almost effortlessly succeeds, only falling short when it tries to do too much with its rather blunt attempts to have a political agenda. It makes certain plot threads feel forced that, although in theory, could be nicely structured metaphors but in practice just feel like a step too far. For example, when Mehran installs security cameras around the house and begins to watch, and judge, the growing relationship between Atefah and Shireen. Obviously representing the prying eyes and disapproving attitude of the Iranian culture towards homosexuality, and also the two girls’ inner conflict of not being allowed to fully be themselves and always having to curve their true emotional state.
Sensual and, with its love story at least, subtle, Circumstance has enough qualities to make it worth your while, even if it’s not as piercing as it thinks it is. As a first feature, Maryam Keshavarz does an excellent job at finding a voice, but still falls short – as many do first time around – with finding balance within her narrative.