The Circle

2000, Movie, NR, 91 mins


The title of Iranian director Jafar Panahi's daring, cleverly structured film refers to both a physical locale — a public plaza in the heart of Tehran — and the film's ingenious story structure, which begins and ends with news of an Iranian woman who has just given birth. In between, Panahi offers a damning indictment of the lack of freedom experienced by women on several levels of Iranian society. The film opens at a bustling hospital where an expectant grandmother has just received devastating news: Her daughter has borne a baby girl, not the boy the doctors predicted. The grandmother knows her daughter's marriage is over — the disappointed in-laws will no doubt demand a divorce — and as she leaves the hospital in shame, the storyline shifts to two women (Maryiam Parvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh) hovering nervously on the sidewalk outside. They're prisoners on leave from jail who are attempting a permanent escape. One wants to return to her native village, but lacks the proper ID (Iranian women are forbidden to travel alone); in order to help her friend, the other prostitutes herself to a stranger. The narrative is then handed off to a third prisoner (Fereshteh Sadr Orafai) who has escaped in order to obtain an abortion (her husband, also imprisoned, has been executed). She turns to her father and brothers for help, but they consider her condition a disgrace and throw her out on the street. Panahi continues the narrative relay over the course of a single day and across a wide variety of characters: A nurse (Monir Arab) who lives in fear that her doctor-husband will discover she once served time in prison; an exhausted single mother (Fatemeh Naghavi) who attempts to abandon her young daughter on a darkened street (her new boyfriend doesn't want a child); and a prostitute (Mojgan Faramarzi) whose arrest symbolizes the perpetual spiral of transgression and punishment that brings the film full circle. Panahi's first film, THE WHITE BALOON, was an enchanting film whose messages lay safely tucked inside a charming story about a little girl in search of a goldfish. Not so here: This tightly structured, often exciting film is among the boldest in a series of increasingly explicit movies about the hardships facing contemporary Iranian women (Marziyeh Meshkini's superb THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN is another). Not surprisingly, Panahi's film was banned in Iran. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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The Circle
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