Any film that employs Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to underline teenage Sapphic longings has one strike against it already. But the cookie-cutter clichés that plague Iranian director Maryam Keshavarz's debut feature, Circumstance, are leavened considerably by the fact that the teens in question reside in Tehran - not a place where Bonnie Tyler has much of a following, one would think. Tehran's a tough town to be young and in love in, even more so when the lovers are the same gender.
Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) comes from a wealthy, artistically inclined family. Her best friend and first love is Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), an orphan whose left-leaning journalist parents died at the hands of the Iranian regime. Like seemingly everything else in Iran these days, even school is something to be concerned about, as cameras follow the students' every move and the burqa-clad headmistress remarks on Shireen's "questionable character."
Simmering beneath the status quo, however, is a Tehran pulsing with vibrant youth. An early sequence follows the girls as they attend a clandestine house party, complete with a secret password, thumping bass and ecstasy of all kinds. Keshavarz contrasts that with a seaside frolic that includes a haunting vision of a woman in a burqa surrounded by Speedo-wearing menfolk. This sort of female inequality - the sheer effort it takes to be feminine in a theocracy, and the risks thereof - is at the heart of Circumstance. Its sappy, melodramatic overtones can be overlooked, as this is as much a political statement as it is a love story.