No doubt recent images of revolt in Libya have captured our attention but what, if anything, has been said recently of the countries where such dramatic revolt is not imminent?
The film Circumstance, which opens in limited release tomorrow, August 26th, tells one of these latter tales, exploring the lives of two young women as they struggle to resist the Iranian Moral Police and explore their newly discovered sexual relationship to one another. Directed by Maryam Keshavarz, it was one of the dramatic highlights of the festival circuit, most notably winning the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Though Keshavarz is American-born, and the film was shot on location in Lebanon to resist potential violent opposition, Keshavarz grew up spending summers in Shiraz, a large city in Southern Iran, and strove to preserve these cultural ties. To achieve this, she shot the film entirely in Persian and picked actors with similar experiences as her own, including Sarah Kazemy, who had been studying law in France before being cast.
The result is a film that, even though does not directly involve Iran, is a staunch protest of repressive Iranian polices and has earned Keshavarz and others involved condemnation from within Iran.
While it's wrong to call the film merely an LGBTQ film, as it touches on the power of the regime to quell any form of youth resistance, the narrative resonates most emotionally in the relationship between the two leads. This is because their interactions are filmed by favoring close-up shots, often accompanied by traditional Persian music, that romanticizes their relationship and, in the process, offers their taboo love as one of the greatest opportunities to break from religious extremism.
Even as the threat of violence looms in every lovemaking scene, party and conversation they have, the film is also not afraid to inject humor. One of the funniest of these scenes in when a group of youth are attempting to dub the American biopic Milk into Persian. While one of the film's central messages is that "in this place, everything that's illegal is subversive," their attempts to capture the inflection of Sean Penn's character represent the joyful humor that also comes from being subversive.
But it is clear the film is not a tale of resistance that changes political realities. If anything, what is most affecting about the film is how it captures what happens when the attempts at liberation fail. But the message of the film is not that these attempts to construct an identity, politically or romantically, outside the confines of repression, are valueless or impossible. Instead, the film's bravery lies in its affirmation that despite these struggles, the youth of Iran will not be silenced.
Though Keshavarz's narrative occasionally falters under the weight of its own ambitious subplots, it's a must-see film because it reminds us, as LGBTQ individuals, the place that storytelling can have in resistance, and how much further, despite all of the tremendous successes we have encountered, that we have to go, whether it is in Iran or our own backyards.
For more information on the film, including screening locations, please visit the official website.