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'The Circle'

'The Circle' brings home the suffering of women in Iran

Saturday, June 16, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

In "The Circle," Iranian women are not permitted on the streets unaccompanied by a man. Infant daughters are abandoned because they are not sons. Everything from failing to wear her veil and traveling without her "exit pass" to smoking a cigarette in public is potential cause for an arrest on prostitution charges. And God help the woman who wants an abortion.

'The Circle'

Starring: Maryam Palvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh, Fereshteh Sadr Orafai

Director: Jafar Panahi

Rating: PG-13 for adult themes and subtitles

Critic's call:



It is a grim reality, grimly rendered, in director Jafar Panahi's vision. Winner of the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival of 2000, "The Circle" tells women's stories that are not so much interwoven as merely concurrent.

Both the narrative and the unfolding of it are slow and, properly enough, circular: Two of the women have been given temporary leave from a prison and have gone on the lam. A third has escaped in search of an abortion -- and is nearly killed by her furious brothers. The heroines -- or antiheroines -- are beautifully and soulfully played by Maryam Palvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh and Fereshteh Sadr Orafai.

Director Panahi has revealed the genesis of his film:

"One day I noticed a small article in the newspaper: A woman committed suicide after killing her two young daughters. There was nothing about the reasons behind the crime or the suicide. Perhaps the newspaper did not see any need. [Women's] freedom is limited to the point it seems as if they are in a big prison. This is not only true for a particular [lower] class of women, but for all of them -- as if each woman could replace another in a circle, making them all the same."

The amazing thing is that the picture was made at all in Iran -- at great risk to Panahi, whose difficulties were monumental and whose final product has never yet been publicly screened there. It is a deeply humanistic treatment of the ways despair and injustice forge feminine kinship in that social nightmare of a land.

It is in Farsi, with English subtitles. I wish I could tell you it's easy to watch. It is not. It is fascinating but, inevitably, as relentlessly oppressive as the radical religious society it depicts.

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