Freedom isn't just another word for nothin' left to lose for anyone under the age of 25 who lives in modern-day Tehran; it's a contraband commodity smuggled between culturally curious kids and sampled clandestinely at underground get-togethers. Still, clampdown threats don't stop Atafeh (Boosheri), the daughter of wealthy, Westernized parents, from sneaking into clubs or secretly getting it on with her classmate Shireen (Kazemy). Atafeh's brother (Safai), a recent convert to religious zealotry and surveillance technology, will eventually throw a major monkey wrench into their relationship, but not before these photogenic young women are shown engaging in carnal activities filmed just north of salacious. For those who've ever pondered what a Skinemax flick sponsored by Human Rights Watch would look like, wonder no more.
It's not that writer-director Maryam Keshavarz's portrayal of the abuses and humiliations women suffer in a repressive patriarchy---from foot-fondling cabbies to interrogation-room violations---isn't based in fact, and you'd have to be a fundamentalist or a fool to view the country's treatment of homosexuals as anything but regressive. What you can take issue with, however, is the way Circumstance clumsily negotiates through middlebrow melodramatic territory, regardless of whether the film focuses on sapphic desire or simply conflates it with other subversive activities. The closer this parable inches toward tragedy, the more you can feel the gap between good intentions and generic exotica-grandstanding widening into an unbridgeable chasm.
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