A woman panics when discovering that her grandchild has been born a girl. Meanwhile, several other frightened, disenfranchised women living in Tehran face traumas of their own.


Quite simply, a masterpiece.

In a Tehran hospital, a woman awaits anxiously for news about her grandchild – and she's shattered when she learns that the baby is a girl. Outside the hospital are three young women – they're anxious, fearful – and their attempts to leave the city are constantly thwarted. One of them, Nargess, tries unsuccessfully to make contact with her friend, Pari, who is recently out of prison and has been thrown out of her family home. Pregnant and desperate, Pari seeks help from Monir, a friend married to a Pakistani doctor.

a superior piece of cinema

In addition to these frightened, disenfranchised women we meet Nayereh, who is forced to abandon her little girl, and Mojgan, a prostitute. As the story spirals from one character to another, it eventually turns full circle.

This is a quite astonishing film, even by the generally high standards set by Iranian cinema. The Circle is a breathtaking achievement from Jafar Panahi, best known for his film The White Balloon. We're not told the crimes these women have committed, and it's immaterial; the fact is that, in a society dominated completely by men, they have no rights at all – they can't even travel unaccompanied on a bus, or check into a hotel.

Not only is the film a bold and passionate political statement, it's also a superior piece of cinema, with a structure somewhat similar to that of Max Ophuls' La Ronde (a film Panahi hasn't seen), and a visual style that features the 'circle' motif in camera movement and even the choice of location.

The on-location fluid camera never descends into the irritating hand-held excess of too many western filmmakers. The Circle is, quite simply, a masterpiece.


Watch 'The Circle'

Tuesday 23 June, 2:15pm on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)

Iran, 2000
Genre: Drama
Language: Persian
Director: Jafar Panahi
Starring: Maryiam Palvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh, Mojgan Faramarzi
What's it about?
A dramatic depiction of the oppression and discrimination against women in Iran. Three women on leave from prison try to fit into society, with little success. This wnner of the Golden Lion at the 2000 Venice Film Festival comes from acclaimed director Jafar Panahi (Offside, The White Balloon)

The Circle Review (by David Stratton)

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