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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

'The Circle' Encompasses Problematic Cycles

Author: Becca Kaufman Staff Writer

The second film shown as part of the symposium "A Glimpse Behind the Veil: Contemporary Iranian Cinema" in Dana Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 3, was one that explores the subject of women and the restraints and prejudices that so prominently exist against them in Iranian society. Directed by Jafar Panahi, "The Circle" is a film with a history as daring as the film itself.

Panahi wrote the script for the "The Circle" in 1997, the same year the more moderate President Khatami came to power. Panahi hoped that a film such as "The Circle," which makes strong social and political statements regarding the rights of women, would be allowed in this new era of greater artistic freedom. However, from the creation of the script to the film's actual production to the release, Panahi ran into barricades from the government.

First he was strongly advised to make the film abroad, but Panahi refused. He would neither modify his script nor make any concessions about his overall vision of what he wanted the film to say. Finally, in May 1999, he was issued a production permit and began his work. Instead of the permit making his work easier, however, it put him in the limelight as a controversial figure.

Although Panahi had not released the script and had not made any comments on the nature of the film publicly, he found himself and his film quoted by the media in daily newspapers. He was portrayed as a political dissenter and a rebel rouser. Panahi's second job became responding to the false statements published about him daily.

Yet his work on the film continued. He decided that the film's message would be enhanced by focusing on the darkest side of Tehran, which meant filming during the winter and at night.

This created two problems for Panahi: professional actresses were not that interested in such gritty roles and the government was not happy about such a gritty and generally negative movie being made in their own city of Tehran. Panahi did eventually find actresses, believing that non-professionals would be more suited for the parts and the filming continued but only under "law enforcement forces."

While the audience sees a string of women fighting against various social forces, Panahi was undergoing similar experiences during the actual making of the movie. However, the end result fulfilled his original ambitions. The next problem he faced was whether or not it be would released, as intended, at the Fajr International Film Festival. He was told that it could be, if he censored certain parts. Panahi refused.

Although he had offers at the highly regarded Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, Panahi struggled not to relinquish his dreams of "The Circle" being released in his own country. The film did finally receive the attention it deserved, albeit outside of Iran. At the 2000 Venice Film Festival, it won six awards.

Last Saturday night, Middlebury honored Panahi by showing his film to a full house at the Dana Auditorium. The movie did not have a main character or a single plot line. It was filmed in a documentary-like style, and the audience received Panahi's messages through a web of haphazard interactions that started in a hospital and ended in a jail. In between, the idea of birth and imprisonment are the two prominent themes. We see a grandmother unwilling to believe her daughter gave birth to a baby girl because the father's family will most certainly disapprove and a single pregnant women pleading with her female acquaintance to convince her husband, who is a doctor, to help with an abortion.

After her friend denies her this, she finds herself on the street with a woman who had just abandoned her child for the third time because she feels hopeless about providing her a decent life. Few are willing to help these women get by. They are not wanted in their homes and they are always vulnerable to the police on the streets. Even smoking a cigarette is a potentially dangerous act.

At the end, we see a single shot of the one place that committing acts of "individual choices" will bring them: prison. "The Circle" is complete, for in Iran the cycle of life for women involves a series of closed doors from birth to death.