The blossoming love affair between Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) and Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) could hardly be more taboo than in its setting in contemporary Iran in the wonderfully sensuous film Circumstance. Even, or especially, wearing their hijabs while walking in the streets, their sharp, jet-black eyebrows and electric eyes betray both their own passions and those of Iran's burgeoning youth culture. The girls shed the traditional head scarves as they slip into house parties, illicit clubs and backstreets, where they drink alcohol, flirt with men, dance with each other and talk about American movies and television (convinced Sex and the City is pornography).
Atafeh's parents are wealthy, and that allows the family some measure of relief in the form of privacy. They are not in line with the Mullahs and Iran's ruling Muslim orthodoxy, but they quietly keep that to themselves. By going to illicit clubs, however, the girls risk run-ins with the nations' "morality police." Atafeh's brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) is recovering from a drug problem, and he has embraced Islam. Although he expresses a desire to be pure, the line between strict religious practice and being a good citizen gets blurred. In Iran's ruthless theocracy, there is little difference between a public crime and a personal impure thought.
Director Maryam Keshavarz uses music to excellent effect, particularly in the Iranian hip-hop pulsing through the house parties, Iranian pop music and the wail of traditional Muslim prayers. Mehran has turned away from a musical gift for playing classical piano. Shireen dreams of becoming a popular singer, but in a dreamy American Idol kind of way. But the silence and abject deference expected of Muslim women is a sharp reminder of the societal limits Shireen and Atafeh must live with. As suitors begin calling on the girls, it's clear their intimacy will not last and that the passions of young love are wildly unruly. The indignities that arise from living under Iran's corrosive and perverse official version of Islam make this debut feature as devastating as it is beautiful and seductive. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello