After Iranian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz made Circumstance, she knew she might never be able to return to her homeland again, but that has not stopped her from telling the story.
The film, which began playing in US theaters last Friday after a strong debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, tells of two Iranian teenage girls who fall in love. But they face interference from a brother who joins the religious police and a government that refuses to acknowledge gay people exist.
“I’ve seen very few films that address women’s sexuality — in Iran, in the Muslim world, at all,” Keshavarz told Reuters. “As much as some people are upset about the film, there are other people who are like, ‘Finally! Something that’s us!’”
The story and characters are fictional but Keshavarz, who wrote and directed the film, said they are based on real-life experiences among her friends.
The key characters in Circumstance, Atafeh and Shireen, have grown up like many young women in Tehran. As teens, they dream of a life of adventure, art and culture. They buy foreign DVDs, listen to western music, dance at underground clubs and dream of running away. Eventually, they fall for each other.
But standing between them is a society that will not accept who they are rapidly becoming. That society is embodied in Atafeh’s older brother, who was once like them but has returned home from drug “rehab” a more conservative and intolerant man.
The lesbian subject matter is not the only controversial aspect of Circumstance. The film violates many cinematic practices common in Iran and other parts of the Muslim world.
“It didn’t adhere to the rules of Iranian cinema, where women have to have their hair covered,” Keshavarz said. “We even have sex scenes and nudity in the film.”
1. intolerant adj.
偏執的 (pian1 zhi2 de5)
例: Our intolerant boss often loses her temper and yells at us.
2. aspect n.
觀點 (guan1 dian3)
例: That is one aspect which still needs to be further explored.
3. practice n.
實務 (shi2 wu4)
例: There are many similarities in the religious practices of various cultures throughout the world.
Circumstance earned the Audience Award at Sundance, as well as several other honors at gay and straight film festivals throughout 2011. Now Circumstance faces a new test — US audiences and box offices. But even that may not be its biggest challenge. The major hurdle will be when, if ever, it debuts in Tehran.