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The Circle
cast: Fereshteh Sadr Orafa, Maryiam Parvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh

director: Jafar Panahi

87 minutes (PG) 2000
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Over the opening credits we hear the sounds of a woman in childbirth. The first words we hear are, "It's a girl!" But surely there's some mistake... they were expecting a boy from the ultrasounds... her husband will most likely divorce her and the in-laws disown her...
   For much of the film, we follow two other women, Arezou (Maryiam Parvin Almani) and Nargess (Nargess Mamizadeh), both just released from prison, as they try to leave Teheran. They are trying to get to Raziliq, Nargess' home village, but don't have the money for the fare. They have to find somewhere to stay before evening, or else they risk being arrested again...
   Jafar Panahi began his career as an assistant to Abbas Kiarostami, and the latter wrote the script for Panahi's first feature The White Balloon. That probably remains his finest film, managing to create compelling drama out of the story - told in real time - of a young girl's attempts to buy a goldfish. The Circle is his third feature (The Mirror came in between): an Iranian/Italian co-production, it took three years to make and earned Panahi the authorities' official displeasure. However, it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Filmed with hidden cameras on the streets of Teheran (cinema vérité and Italian neo-realism are strong influences on the current new wave of Iranian cinema), The Circle is a work of anger tempered with a realisation that this is reality, but is a film not without hope. The prison is a metaphor for the situation that the women are in: one formed by patriarchal attitudes and bureaucracy and age-old and unchanged tradition.
   The DVD is in the original aspect ratio but not widescreen-enhanced. The soundtrack has the original Farsi dialogue, in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, with English subtitles. Extras: the trailer, a text interview with Panahi and his filmography.