The Sundance audiences were right on the money with Circumstance, the audience award winner at that festival. Circumstance, brought to life by writer and director Maryam Keshavarz, debuted in San Francisco last night to a packed audience at the Kabuki.
Set in contemporary Tehran right before the Iranian Green Wave or Green Revolution, Circumstance brings it all: a riveting love triangle and intense family drama involving the head-on conflict and betrayal by the “reformed” drug addict and subsequently intolerant brother Mehran, played by the amazing Reza Sixo Safai, and the rest of his family.
Mehran’s sister, Atafeh or “Atie”, a bright, developing, and open-minded young woman, bears the brunt of Mehran’s newfound religious zealotry after Mehran finds his mission assisting the Iranian morality police. Atafeh’s deep and loving, yet forbidden, relationship with her best friend, Shireen, is threatened by Mehran who terrorizes Atie, Shireen, and his entire family with his “reformation.”
We were lucky enough to have both “Mehran,” aka Reza, and Maryam with us after the film. The film is well-known and in huge demand in Iran, but ironically enough, will never be shown there for many reasons that will be obvious after you see the film. (We’ve been asked not to share too much about the film itself as it will be out in theaters this August.)
Because it clearly could not be shot in Tehran, we learned last night that it was filmed in Lebanon. Maryam shared that that was no small feat in itself, even though Lebanon apparently represented a more “liberal” alternative for filming than Iran. Some of the most intimate and presumably “controversial” scenes by Lebanese regulatory standards were shot within feet of armed Lebanese officers who’d received an erroneous tip that Maryam was shooting a pornographic film. Both Maryam and Reza agreed that completing the shoot required nerves of steel.
The completion of the film didn’t necessarily bring relief. Instead, the crew and cast experienced a deep sense of mourning with the realization that for them, the reality of bringing the film – and its many controversial subjects — to light means that they will likely never be able to return to Iran. This is no small thing for Maryam and Reza, who have spent a fairly significant amount of time there and have family ties to Iran, even though they don’t currently live there.
Circumstance plays again tomorrow Tuesday May 3 at 6:15 p.m. at the Kabuki. Tickets are rush status only, so get there early. If you miss it, you can catch it in the theaters this summer.