Movie Review By Moira Sullivan
Banned by the government until among other awards, winning the coveted Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival in September last year, The Circle or 'Dayereh', is an Iran-Italy co-production, directed by Jafar Panahi with script by Kambozia Partovi. With The Circle, Panahi changes direction after making two critically acclaimed children's films: The White Balloon and The Mirror.
Panahi hopes to alert his own country as well as the world to one of Iran's most terrifying practices: the repression and hunt of women who defy the many restrictions put on them by societal regulations. A circle of seven women dramatize this discrimination. The film is both circular in motion and in narration by tracking their lives, whose worst crimes seem to be being out without a male escort and for smoking in public. This is multiplied by ways of coping with repression, which include prostitution and abandonment of female children. The Circle basically shows that Iran is a police state with severe measures for keeping women in control. Principally women are incarcerated and when not, are constantly under the threat of being pulled in for being out of line.
Panahi's outstanding technique is to illustrate the chained up feeling women have with the codes they find impossible to follow, and the consequences of being shunned by their own society with the threat of eventual incarceration. This is done in simple ways, but with incidents which have terribly distressing meanings and consequences.
The opening scene shows a woman giving birth to a child, who to her horror, is a girl which will upset her husband and in laws. We later hear her name mentioned at the end of the film in a police station.
Three other women who are out on a temporary pass from jail are the next women to be followed. Their crimes are never named. Arezou (Maryiam Parvin Almani) watches over the confused 18 year old Nargess (Nargess Mamizadeh) Nargress's restlessness and vulnerability is shown in her indecisiveness about buying a men's shirt in a shop, obviously a cover-up just before she is to debark on a bus disguised as a student. Traveling alone without a man is impossible and to boot she doesn't have enough money. Somehow she works out a deal with the ticket vendor - but never takes the bus! Instead she tries in vain to find Arezou.
The third woman, Pari (Fereshteh Sadr Orafai) needs money for an abortion and travels at great risk to meet two former jailmates: Monir, a woman whose husband remarried while she was in prison and Elham, a nurse who has newly married and doesn’t want to make any trouble with her new spouse. Pari later meets a woman who has abandoned her daughter on the streets and who then gets into a car with a male stranger. The film culminates in a roadblock of a car carrying a young prostitute whose male driver claims innocence and is let off.
The lives of these women end up on an endless circle of misery, torture and escape. It is clear from their treatment that a woman could not have made this film at all. It is to Panahi's credit that he has boldy made a shocking testimony of the conditions for women today in Iran.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice, Italy.
© 2001 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 5/01
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