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In a hospital waiting room an elderly woman learns her daughter has just given birth. The family has been expecting a boy, but the child proves to be a girl. Fearing the anger of her in-laws, the woman flees onto the streets of Tehran, where two other women, Arezou (Maryam Parvin Almani) and Nargess (Nargess Mamizadeh) have just been released from prison and are trying to raise money to take the bus out of town. Over the course of one day and the following night, we follow their struggles and those of other women, including a single mother, a prostitute, and Pari (Fereshteh Sadr Orfani) another ex-prisoner who wants to get an abortion.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Yet another stunning Iranian film. How does this "Axis of Evil" member produce so many wonderfully humanist films? One suspects that there is an "official" line that certain liberal-minded bureaucrats in Iran permit to be crossed. How else can so many Iranian films suffer bans and censorship at home yet be freely available to win prizes and distribution deals overseas (The Circle won the coveted Golden Lion in Venice in 2000). Like their counterparts in China's Fifth Generation of directors in the 80s and 90s, Iran's leading filmmakers appear free to make what they wish on the understanding that penalties of varying degree will be imposed for internal appearances sake. Or is it all just a clever marketing tool to make the films more attractive to foreign markets? Whatever the political realities may or may not be, there is no doubt about what's up there on screen in Jafar Panahi's powerful statement about female oppression. We're never told explicitly what ‘crimes’ most of these fugitive women have committed and the sheer number of them running for safety carries a potent message that all women in this society are prisoners in one way or another. We don't stay with most of the women long enough to learn their fate and the denial of traditional dramatic resolution is part of the film's major impact. Each woman is part of a multitude whose collective suffering is too large to comprehend and whose hopes of a more equal future lies in the hope that those who permit Panahi and other socially Iranian conscious filmmakers to work will strengthen in number and influence.

Review by Jake Wilson:
There's no question that The Circle lacks the beautiful clarity of Jafar Panahi's first feature, The White Balloon (an instant classic). At first, viewers may feel as baffled as the characters do in their wanderings through the Tehran streets, lost in the stream of changing faces and seemingly random incident. The film seems to ask: how can you centre a narrative around women in a culture where women have no story of their own, where they’re defined only by their biological attributes and their relation to men? As various vignettes demonstrate, women in Iran have little freedom to travel around by themselves, dress as they please, or control their own bodies. But far from being merely social problems to be considered in the abstract, these restrictions exert a structuring force on everything we see and hear: which physical actions and narrative possibilities are available, and which are sealed off. Western audiences may be tempted to view the film as an attack on a repressive, alien Islamic society. But more simply, the feminist gesture made by Panahi is to allow women their own space. Not claiming godlike omniscience, he provides only incomplete glimpses of the women he films; he never imposes reductive psychological explanations on their actions; and while he doesn’t deny their sexuality, he never puts them on show as erotic objects for the viewer. It’s worth asking: of how many male filmmakers in the First World could the same be said?

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Dayereh (also known as Il Cerchio)

CAST: Nargess Mamizadeh, Maryiam Palvin Almani, Mojgan Faramarzi

PRODUCER: Jafar Panahi

DIRECTOR: Jafar Panahi

SCRIPT: Kambuzia Partovi

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Badakhshani, Bahram Badakshani

EDITOR: Jafar Panahi

ART DIRECTION: Iraj Raminfar
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 7, 2002 (Sydney/Melbourne)

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