In a mid-nineties interview following the release of her film Fire (which ignited riots across India because of its depiction of a Hindu lesbian love affair), director Deepa Mehta said that had she been a Muslim director dealing with the topic of homosexuality, she “would have been lynched.” Now, some fifteen years later, Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz has made Circumstance, among the world’s first fiction films about Muslim lesbians. In fact, prior to Parvez Sharma’s 2007 documentary A Jihad for Love, the dearth of gay and lesbian characters in Iranian film would have had anyone using cinema as their barometer of the times credulously accepting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements in 2007 that homosexuality simply does not exist in Iran.
Thus, even if Circumstance were completely didactic and predictable, I would still feel obligated to give Keshavarz some props for representing an invisible population. Thankfully, there is much more to this debut feature than mere politics; part coming-of-age tale, part family drama, Circumstance features a beguiling cast, beautifully photographed. It presents us with two sides of modern day Iran; the stifled surface teeming over with repressed sexuality, and the pulsating underworld, where Ecstasy is doled out like communion wafers at secret parties and illegal discotheques, and women riding alone in taxis at night run the risk of cabbies fetishistically molesting their feet. The worlds are separated visually; every time red clashes against navy blue or black, as it does in an opening scene where a crimson origami crane is passed from schoolgirl to schoolgirl against the shroud of their heavy, dark clothes, we are made aware of the discord between these two societies. Read Sarah Silver’s review of Circumstance.