Sisters on the run
Panahi’s masterful The Circle examines female dilemmas in Iran with an honest eye
The Circle, opening at the Pageant on Friday, is a beautifully constructed film that I heartily recommend. It is not exactly a suspense thriller, but its surprises and mysteries are such that you may not want to read the next paragraph of this review until after you’ve seen the film.
A woman, upset at the news that her daughter’s newborn child is female, leaves the hospital and passes two young women who are trying to make their way across Tehran without running into the police. The two young women eventually get separated after attempting to make contact with a third friend. This third friend is a prison escapee whose family has disowned her (because she’s pregnant), and she soon crosses paths with the frantic single mother trying to abandon her own small daughter.
The women are all characters in this prize-winning film from Iran who reflect the dilemmas of females in a society in which it is a crime for a woman to smoke in public or to travel anywhere unaccompanied by a male. As such, they are figures in a tale of injustice, but The Circle steers clear of the melodrama of victimization and portrays them instead with a devastating, but by no means disheartening, matter-of-factness.
Director Jafar Panahi, whose marvelous White Balloon played here a few years back, thrusts us into these characters’ ongoing difficulties and lets us do some of the sorting out as we follow a variety of individuals through the anguishing conflicts that develop in otherwise ordinary situations. Panahi and screenwriter Kambozia Partovi present the story as a series of digressions from one character to another in the course of a single day, but—true to its title—the film’s account of these women’s travails comes full circle.
As such, The Circle is the latest Iranian example of masterly filmmaking with a minimum of means. Filmed largely in the streets and public buildings of Tehran, it makes brilliant use of tracking shots, long takes, and extended close-ups. A scene in which a woman walks alone at night and then accepts a ride from a passerby, for example, is done almost entirely in a single, long-running medium close-up, and the results are both haunting and unflinchingly honest.