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The first but certainly not the only thing about Circumstance that the Islamic regime objects to is the love story at the center of the movie, between two beautiful, Westernized 16-year-old schoolgirls. Atafeh comes from a liberal, wealthy family that must keep its secular sentiments and love of Western culture behind closed doors.
The greatest threat to their friendship, however, comes not from the theocratic thugs who regularly pull kids off the road for playing Iranian hip-hop in their cars, but from within Atafeh's family. Circumstance is, unavoidably, a political film, but it owes as much to the steamy family melodramas of Douglas Sirk as it does to the social realism of the incarcerated Jafar Panahi. The director knew that it would be impossible to shoot Circumstance in Iran, and too dangerous for any of the cast and crew to live there.
Iran is a country, as we all know, where homosexuality doesn't exist—President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said so himself—so to depict a frankly erotic lesbian amour fou is a treasonable fantasy in itself. From the opening sequence set in a nightclub (which you don't realize until later is a fantasy), you feel you're in the hands of a natural-born filmmaker. She details the film’s troubled gestation to David Ansen.Maryam Keshavarz's stunning, sensual Circumstance has already been denounced, sight unseen, by the Iranian government, which got wind of it after the movie won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance film festival. Circumstance shows us how anyone who goes against the fundamentalist grain is forced to lead a double life. The orphaned Shireen, less sure of herself, lives with her aunt and uncle: her dissenter parents were killed for publishing antigovernment tracts. Lost, bitter, and estranged from his disappointed father, he turns to Islam, falling under the paternal wing of a morality police bigwig.


Her life experience has given Keshavarz something to say, but she has no need of soapboxes to convey her message. Growing up with dual citizenship, Keshavarz is intimately acquainted with cultural schizophrenia.
The film, set in contemporary Tehran (though shot in Lebanon), will never be released in Iran, though you can be sure pirated DVDs will be a hot item on the black market. In public, in the daytime, at school, Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) cover their hair in scarves and their bodies in drab clothes, rendering them indistinguishable from the other schoolgirls. It's not uncommon for former junkies to turn to fundamentalism, but is Mehran's newfound faith genuine, or a desperate assertion of power? It's embedded in the performances of her marvelous cast (you'd never know the two girls had never been in front of a camera before), in the fluid editing and the beautifully composed images. The Iranian-American writer and director, 36, who spent her childhood shuttling back and forth between the U.S.
At night, with their friends, the girls avail themselves of Tehran's many secret underground clubs. They can only fantasize about living openly as lovers in another land, and Keshavarz shows us those fantasies—erotic encounters in a chic hotel room in an imaginary Dubai, where no curtains need be drawn. Mehran becomes a monster of betrayal and manipulation—he sets up a surveillance system to spy on his sister and Shireen, whom he covets for himself. Keshavarz waited until the last day to shoot one of her most difficult scenes—the Dubai erotic fantasy between Atafeh and Shireen—and it was on that day that the police paid a visit.


With the right password, you go behind a nondescript storefront and enter the city's youthful, strobe-lit counterculture.
He becomes an informer, setting up an arrest that will alter the lives of both his sister and Shireen. Keshavarz's emotionally urgent film, deeply in touch with all its characters, sticks to the personal, and in doing so, illuminates an entire society.
She remembers, in the days before the Internet, the fear she felt passing through customs with hidden Michael Jackson tapes and copies of Vogue and Cosmopolitan for her friends. The girls shed their robes to reveal sparkling minidresses, the coke flows, the dance floor fills, and the party goes deep into the night—if it isn't raided by the self-appointed morality police.
We had 10 days of film on the set," and she feared it might be confiscated before she could get it out of the country to be developed. The officials had been told they were making an American romantic comedy, so the actors were forced to improvise, in English, a scene where they were talking about their boyfriends. Now she has the honor, as the creator of Circumstance, of being a bona fide enemy of the state.



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