The glossy side of a dark theoc­racy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

Well-heeled Tehran teen Atafeh (Boosh­eri) is in love with left-lean­ing Shireen (Kazemy), an or­phan from the wrong side of the tracks. The girls dream of es­cape to Dubai where glitzy ho­tels might host glis­ten­ing soft-lens shower scenes and sheet-grab­bing girl-on-girl ac­tion. In the mean­time, their Sap­phic crush takes their clan­des­tine love un­der­ground, into an il­licit, in­trigu­ing world of house par­ties and ec­stasy. But will Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Sixo Safai), a re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict turned de­vout Mus­lim, blab to the mul­lahs? “I pray ev­ery day so I know I’m clean,” he frowns at his sis­ter: “I’m not so sure about you.” The ex-mu­si­cian’s be­liefs are in­formed by reli­gious fer­vour, a dim view of girl power and – here’s the rub – his own crush on Shireen.

Ke­shavarz’s po­lit­i­cally charged premise piv­ots on the ten­sions be­tween moder­nity and theoc­racy; Mehran at­tempts to spy on the girls with cam­eras hooked up to a Mac Book Pro; a shot of a hi­jab­wear­ing woman serv­ing tea to men in Speedos pro­vides a shock­ing snap­shot of sex­ual in­equal­ity; ex­em­plary Is­lamic young­sters dub bootlegs of Sex in the City and Milk. Mo­ments like these re­mind the viewer that they’re watch­ing a land­mark film and a nec­es­sary an­ti­dote to western rep­re­sen­ta­tions of a docile, feu­dal Ira­nian pop­u­la­tion.

Even in Beiruit, here a stand-in for the more op­pres­sive Tehran, the film­mak­ers felt the need to send a fake script to the Le­banese au­thor­i­ties, lest Hezbol­lah get wind of their true in­ten­tions. The shoot was dis­rupted by a po­lice raid, nonethe­less. The cast and crew, all drawn from the Ira­nian di­as­pora, likely won’t re­turn to Le­banon or their an­ces­tral home­land any time soon; the film and its di­rec­tor have al­ready been banned by the au­thor­i­ties.

It’s ironic that a drama so deft in min­ing the schizoid ori­en­tal- oc­ci­den­tal di­vide in Iran is al­most un­done by mo­ments of unadul­ter­ated western cheese. The gloss and golden hue of Brian Rigney Hub­bard’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy is im­pres­sive, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the bud­getary con­straints. If any­thing, it’s all a lit­tle too glossy, par­tic­u­larly set be­side Ja­far Panahi’s un­var­nished de­pic­tions of Ira­nian women in Off­side and The Circle. The cast are solid but un­nec­es­sar­ily pretty for kitchen-sink re­al­i­ties.

De­but­ing di­rec­tor Ke­shavarz is com­mend­ably an­gry and ex­u­ber­ant as she comes out shoot­ing at re­li­gion as a pa­tri­ar­chal pre­text for the con­trol of fe­male sex­u­al­ity; then she gives us biki­nis, killer heels and soft­core smooching. Even Hol­ly­wood doesn’t sub­ject us to Bon­nie Tyler’s To­tal Eclipse of the Heart any­more.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Nikohl Boosh­eri and Sarah Kazemy

in Cir­cum­stance

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