Set in Tehran but filmed mainly in Beirut, Circumstance, Maryam Keshavarz's earnest, well-intentioned first feature on women's oppression in Iran, has trouble resisting its own heavy hand. In-love high schoolers Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), a daughter of privilege, and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), living with her uncle and grandmother after the death of her regime-challenging intellectual parents, dream of escaping to Dubai, which, in their frequently cut-to fantasies, is a utopia of high-femme boîtes and chic hotel suites for Showtime-style sapphistry. The teenagers — who seek out clandestine centers of decadent pleasure where headscarves are discarded and immodest sequined party dresses are revealed — soon become the target of Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh's older brother, now a devout Muslim (and informer for the Morality Police) after years of drug addiction.
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Keshavarz occasionally shows that she has the talent to make her points subtly: During a seaside outing that Atafeh takes with her family and Shireen, the camera lingers just long enough on a woman in a black jilbab, serving tea and snacks to three men clad only in swim briefs. More often, though, the writer-director re-emphasizes the obvious, especially when Mehran installs spy cams in every room of his parents' well-appointed house, observing the crimes against the theocratic state from his MacBook Pro. —Melissa Anderson (Landmark, Town Center)