‘Circumstance’ Director Maryam Keshavarz’s Tale of Risk and Forbidden Love
'Circumstance' (Photo: Roadside Attractions)
"We couldn't shoot in Iran. Then I was editing in Chile, we had an 8.8 earthquake. And now, after 25 years, there's like a hurricane hitting New York City," she said with a laugh.
Keshavarz talked to me while navigating Los Angeles traffic -- always a dicey proposition. But, then, she is not someone to shy away from risk: She shot her debut feature in a politically hostile part of the world; she managed to tick off the oppressive government of her ancestral homeland; and she faced down at least one natural disaster. In comparison, talking on the phone while driving down Wilshire Boulevard is a cinch.
"Circumstance," which won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, is an atmospheric love story between two teenage girls: the affluent Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and the orphaned Shireen (Sarah Karzemy). Though there's less skin in this flick than in your average Victoria's Secret catalogue, the scenes where the two explore their desires are undeniably sexy. And though there are plenty of art-house movies detailing the repression of feminine wants and aspirations in the face of a patriarchal culture, it's the movie's Sapphic sensuality grounded in a specifically Persian setting that makes the movie remarkable.
Maryam Keshavarz (Photo: Roadside Attractions)
Considering that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly stated that homosexuality doesn't exist, it's not surprising, then, that the Iranian government has denounced the movie.
Perhaps another reason why Ahmadinejad and company weren't terribly fond of the movie is that it introduces us to Tehran's youth culture underworld. In one scene, Atafeh and Shireen go to a secret rave held in a nondescript storefront, hiding slinky miniskirts beneath their robes. They venture to a barber shop that sells black market videos in the back. These scenes were, in part, drawn from some of Keshavarz's own experiences. She went to Iran every summer until she was 17.