"Circumstance": Lesbian Love Story Set in Iran Opens in Theaters Today

Circumstance, a new film depicting the coming-of-age love story of two teenage girls in contemporary Iran, opens in theaters today. Set in Tehran, the film explores the tensions between Iran’s underground youth culture of parties, sex, drugs and resistance and its more public ‘morality police’ movement through the story of 16-year-olds ‘Shireen,’ an orphan, her best friend, the wealthy ‘Atafeh,’ and Atafeh’s older brother, ‘Mehran.’

"Circumstance" Poster (courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Shireen and Atafeh find refuge from a society that disallows them the simplest freedoms - swimming, singing, following their dreams - through their friendship. They encourage each other to speak their dreams and fantasies aloud, and eventually develop feelings for one another (though they must keep this forbidden love secret). The plot thickens when Mehran returns home from drug rehab, renounces his former life as a classical musician, and joins the ‘morality police.’ He becomes suspicious of the bond between Shireen and Atafeh, and increases his surveillance of their activities as the movie progresses. The film premiered in January at Sundance, where it won the 2011 US Dramatic Competition Audience Award and garnered rave reviews. Germain Lussier, a blogger for slashfilm.com, said “Of the thirty plus films I’d seen at Sundance before it, it was the first film to get a legitimate standing ovation.” John Anderson, a film critic for the Wall Street Journal, remarked , “There's genuine heat emanating from Circumstance, director Maryam Keshavarz's stylish cry of outrage against Iran's criminalization of all things youthful: music, dancing, romance—the gateway drugs of intellectual adulthood.” A.O. Scott of the New York Times stated,  “Circumstance ripples with the indignant energy of youthful rebellion...[exploring] the ways power, and particularly religious authority, affect the intimacies of families, lovers and friends.” The film marks Maryam Keshavarz’s writing and directing debut. An Iranian American who has spent significant time in Tehran, Keshavarz explained,
I’ve always been so impressed by young people in Iran who try so hard to find a sense of freedom within the restrictions. Whenever I’ve gone out in Iran, I’ve been in awe of their bravery, and I’m especially in awe of the women, because they’re so much more vulnerable, especially when it comes to arrest and interrogation.
Hear more from Keshavarz in the video below. The film comes out at a time when LGBT Muslims are increasingly vocal in the US.  Just yesterday, an Iranian American writer, Yashar Ali, blogged on Huffington Post about his struggle with homophobia in his family and racism among his peers.  His story highlights the fact that for people in the diaspora, living in the US doesn’t automatically mean acceptance and safety, while underscoring the freedom from overt repression he enjoys compared to ‘Shireen’ and ‘Atafeh.’ Circumstance is rated R and runs 105 minutes. The film was shot in Farsi, with English subtitles, and opens in New York (at the Elinor Bunin, Landmark Sunshine and Squire - Great Neck theaters) and Los Angeles (Arclight Hollywood, The Landmark, Town Center - Encino, Westpark - Irvine) this weekend. The actors, producer and director will appear for Q&A sessions with audiences according to the schedule below. New York Actress Nikohl Boosheri, Actor Keon Mohajeri and Producer Karin Lee will appear: 8/26/2011 After the 6:00pm show Elinor Bunin 8/26/2011 After the 8:20pm show Elinor Bunin 8/27/2011 After the 3:40pm show Elinor Bunin 8/27/2011 After the 7:10pm show Landmark Sunshine 8/27/2011 After the 9:35pm show Landmark Sunshine 8/28/2011 After the 3:45pm show GREAT NECK - Squire 8/28/2011 After the 6:45pm show GREAT NECK - Squire Los Angeles Writer / Director Maryam Keshavarz, Actor Reza Sixo Safai will appear: 8/26/2011 After the 7:30pm show The Landmark 8/26/2011 After the 10:10pm show The Landmark 8/27/2011 After the 4:40pm show ENCINO Town Center 8/27/2011 After the 7:30pm show ENCINO Town Center 8/27/2011 After the 7:30pm show HOLLYWOOD Arclight 8/27/2011 After the 10:20pm show HOLLYWOODArclight 8/28/2011 After the 2:00pm show IRVINE Westpark 8/28/2011 After the 4:45pm show HOLLYWOOD Arclight 8/28/2011 After the 7:30pm show The Landmark