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netribution > features > reviews > The Circle

by Marc Allen | September 21st , 2001

The Circle

Jafar Panahi Film Productions (Iran) & Mikado-Lumiere & Co (Italy) An Artificial Eye Release. Director Jafar Panahi. Screenplay Kambozia Partovi, Starring Maryiam Parvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh, Fereshteh Sadr Orafai.
Certificate PG

Release Date — 21st September 2001

Limited Release Incl. Renoir, Curzon Soho, Barbican, Rio Cinema, Screen On Baker Street, Odeon Covent Garden & Selected Cinemas Across The Country.

This film was Winner of the Golden Lion in Venice 2000. As you would imagine it’s hardly multiplex fodder, which carries the double barrels of being fresh but also challenging in its form and execution.

Set in a harshly sexist Islamic city, the film follows several women, all on the run from the law, for various reasons, from prostitution to jail breaking. Some are acquainted, others just happened to use the same phone booth. They are in fear, but determined. Some escape, some are trapped, others we don’t find out about. But in the end, as the title suggests, most just come full circle to where they started out.

The film is particularly poignant given the media attention being afforded to the Middle East and Islam in the light of recent tragedies. But a lot of time is spent on coming to terms with the long, lingering shots of people waiting, confusing hand held wanderings, oppressive sound design. I wasn’t sure if these were opportunities to contemplate the given situation, times to make us share the desperate waiting. As a result the mind has an opportunity to wander from the film.

There is a cultural difference in this film, which spoon fed Hollywood audiences will not tolerate but which alternative film lovers will willingly adapt to. They are rewarded by the tidy yet somewhat open ending, which gives the opportunity to contemplate and re-evaluate what has been seen over the last 91 minutes.

There was a sense at the end though that there was no solution to the problems. This is how it has always been, and this is how it will continue, mainly because the victims of the film have no weapons with which to fight. I presume the futility of their struggle is meant to provoke the audience, but to what is unclear. Again, my naivety towards Middle Eastern film forms leaves me unsure. So there’s a lesson in itself, the film shows alternative execution and effects for the filmmaker and viewer alike.

The film did seem diluted by the longer scenes and futile representation of the protagonists, but then, from the notes, this seems to have been the goal. Almost like a documentary, to provoke affinity with the exasperation with their plight, though I’m not sure what the film maker suggests should be done about it.

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