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Iran Into a Stonewall

Circumstance (2011)

Maryam Keshavarz/Roadside Attractions

“Circumstance” embodies everything that is wrong with American indie flicks that masquerade as foreign films. This phenomenon has persisted for at least two decades — the most notable example being the “Father Knows Best” trilogy by the Taiwan-born, New York University-educated Ang Lee. Indeed, the main offenders responsible for these pseudo-foreign films are generally nonwhite American filmmakers who exploit their ethnic heritages for professional gain. Their modus operandi usually involves transplanting a concept that is widely acceptable in the West to a foreign culture where it’s supposedly taboo. And homosexuality seems to be their favorite theme time and again — it’s the topic of Mr. Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet,” Alice Wu’s “Saving Face” and now Maryam Keshavarz’s “Circumstance.”

According to Ms. Keshavarz, teenage Iranian girls are just like you Americans! They skip school, crash parties and do drugs, just like you Americans! They are lesbians, just like you Americans! Unfortunately, they don’t get to consummate like you Americans! Because Iran is backward, unlike America! Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” is banned there, unlike in America! They have arranged marriages, unlike in America! The poor dyke must marry the rich dyke’s fundamentalist brother, which she wouldn’t have to do if she were in America! Etc.

Just like most films of its ilk, “Circumstance” reaffirms cultural stereotypes while serving up generous portions of liberal guilt. Art-house patrons can pat themselves on the back for being worldly enough to read subtitles for a couple of hours and feel the pain Iranians — even rich, spoiled ones like this film’s protagonist — suffer. They can take comfort in knowing that they’ve experienced Iranian cinema without ever having to figure out Abbas Kiarostami’s hidden social coda or losing sleep over Jafar Panahi’s plight.


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