Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Circumstance (2011, Maryam Keshavarz): Daring and Interesting but failing

Circumstance will be getting plenty of attention.

Circumstance will be loved by people who take pleasure from watching its gorgeous Iranian girls dance, flirt, perform erotics on eachother, half naked, half dreaming, half asleep, half awake.

Circumstance will be talked about as the first Iranian film about 'Lesbians'.

Circumstance will likely offend the sensitivities of some fundamentalist here or there for desecrating Qoran recitations and breaking Iranian-Screen taboos.

Circumstance will be known as one of the first (the increasingly emerging) "autobiographical" tales of "underground" Iran; one of those that reinforce the illusion of those who see and know Iran through such autobiographical "documentaries" by the upper/middle class westerner-than-Westerners Iranians (often second generation immigrants like Keshavarz).

One film buff would give the film credit for cinematography and edit; describe its extreme close ups of red lips and red satin sheets and 1001-night mise-en-scenes; perhaps paying hommage to Bergman's Sonata, Woody Allen's Bourgeois swank, Kar Wai's oriental moods and Fassbinder's (homo-)sensualism.

A critic would criticize it for crude performance and the poorly written and performed dialogues, many of which do not make any sense nor suggest anything sensible. Another would praise it for the abundance of political 'points' it makes about corruption, repression, depression and etc.

As a first it deserves applause: it is an interesting film, it is courageous and uncompromising. It is also beautifully shot, coloured, lit, and framed. As such, Circumstance succeeds in being a general-pleaser, a departure from the Iranian new wave cinema; thus winning Sundance's audience-choice award.

Circumstance entertained me; reminded me of how it was to be young and naughty under the surveillance of the "Big Sisters" in school; it made me chuckle a couple of times over the accent of the American-Iranian boy who wanted to change Iran by dubbing Milk, and immitating Sean Penn's "gay" voice!

Overall, I liked the film, it wasn't a waste of my time--although I did look at my watch a few times, impatient to get to my supper instead of suffering political/romantic cliche.

I am used to watching slow films, without dialogue or stories, without a blink. And I am familiar with all the pedantic film-school elements that were packed in the film to make it gorgeous. Clearly, this film was made by a brilliant NYU film-student.

But as a whole, the film failed.

It failed to impress because it aimed too high. Simply, there was too much in the film; too much of the many little things that would have been good on their own, but too cluttered and confused to enjoy in one film. Had she been advised that "less is more", this would have become an art-film.

What distracted me from the "goodness" of the film was its politically judgmental edge. From the get-go, it set the stage for the brother to be a "loser": a musician turned addict turned fundamentalist muslim, turned extortionist until his Islamist opportunism made him fortunes and got him fake love!

The film would have been just as good had it avoided cliches such as making the parents of the gorgeous Lesbian Shireen into politically-killed university professors, whose death haunted their daughter into marrying the loser/opportunist/fundamentalist brother!

The film would have been better without the dialogue of Atefeh and her father on the mountain. The ill-executed conversation about how she was suffering the revolutionary sins of the father! These cliches are too cheap and too common to be effective any more.

This film was about Circumstance (شرایط) that defined people of the film into becoming something else to survive or thrive. To weigh the responsibility of all that people become on "Politics" made the film light on developing characters and persona who carried the weight of their choices.

It took Keshavarz 5 years and 40 edits to finalize this film. I hope in her next film she lets go of the "protest banner", for when it comes to lasting political films "less is more".

P.S. I wrote this post first, and then decided to see what other people have been saying. I added the links, where they corresponded to what I had guessed would be said about the film.


Anonymous said...

Naj, Since you say your blog is about fairness, don't you think you have been a little too kind to the director in the first part of your writing?

I think a film with so much political opportunism and so convoluted and poluted of a scenario does not deserve much praise even if the director is young, talented and aspiring.

Sundance's favourable treatment of the film by putting it on one of its panels to be discussed also amazed me. The political milieu of the time was the only way I could explain it (away).

I hope rather than boasting after reading that part, Ms. Maryam Keshavarz would skip fast to pay attention to your frank evaluation and suggestions. A few years down the road, I suspect, these would be what she would appreciate most.

Naj said...

Anonymous, I am happy you bothered to read to the end; also if you noticed the title of the post, you will have caught the "but failing" part.

Yes it is a convoluted film, but for a first attempt it is not too bad. All first-time filmmaker make it as if it is the last chance they will ever get to shine. So I am sure Ms Keshavarz will one day thank me :)

Anonymous said...

I did read the title. That is usually what I start with : )
I noticed the 'but failing' part. That's why I bothered to read to the end : )

But still , ...

I agree with your reply's conclusion : )

Naj said...

Mr A-M K;

That's why you "bothered" to read to the end?! I thought you have a fetishistic addiction to my writings!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, another anthropological film about Iran made for the American middle class housewives. Such an exhausted theme and repeated formula!