The Circle (2000)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Jafar Panahi
Run Time
1 hour and 30 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.

Ecclesiastes 4:1

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s movie begins and ends with a woman peering through a small window with a sliding panel as they seek information from someone in authority. Hence the title refers to a metaphorical circle. This is one circle you would not want to belong to, every one of the characters being a woman struggling to survive in the misogynist society imposed by the radical Muslim regime. We learn just fragmentary details of the lives of these women—including their past, present, and (bleak) future. Affected by the slightly unsteady movement of the handheld camera and not told at first of what some of them are seeking, we are constantly uneasy, wondering what awaits them.

The first woman, dressed in her black burqa, is told by a nurse peering back at her through the window that her daughter has delivered a girl, not the boy promised by an ultrasound. Disappointed because the in-laws will be upset and cast the girl out, she leaves. Outside on Tehran’s bustling street- two other women, Arezou and Nargess are out of prison on a temporary leave, but they have no intention of returning, one of them planning to take a bus to a distant city instead of returning. They have to be careful of the police, for they are out without a male escort, contrary to the law. Of course, their plans go awry because neither of them possess the ID required to board a bus.

A friend of the pair, named Pari, has just escaped from prison in order to have an abortion. She stops briefly at her home and is threatened with death by her brothers. She flees from her father’s house and meets with a former inmate, Elham, who is now married to a doctor and works in a hospital. Despite her connections, Elham is unable to help Pari in her hour of need. Despondent, Pari wanders the streets and chances upon Nayereh, a woman about to abandon her young daughter. Pari tries to stop her, but it is too late. Soon after, Nayareh, falsely accused of prostitution, is taken into custody by the police—and so the last small window is that of a prison cell.

Jafar Panahi might be a man, but he is thoroughly committed to the betterment of women, as we see, leaving us with the feeling that all the women of his nation are in a prison, the prison of male chauvinism. He dealt with a similar theme in another film, though its six teenage girls are not as desperate as these women. In his 2006 film Offside the teenagers merely want to get into a soccer stadium in Tehran to watch a game. It is not allowed, but they go to work on the guard anyway.

The 3rd Panahi film that I have reviewed (May 1997), The White Balloon, also features a main female character, a little girl. It might seem by comparison as weighty as its title item—but it is just as heartfelt, the impoverished little girl trying to find the lost precious bill with which she had hoped to buy a goldfish for their family pond.

The director has been admired internationally, but persecuted at home, undergoing numerous arrests, and has been sentenced to six years of house arrest. This persecution by the Iranian authorities makes me think of him even more as a prophet with a camera. He does not preach or invoke the wrath of Allah upon those mistreating women. He simply lets his camera record the injustices inflicted on the women. We become so involved in their stories that we not only see the crimes committed against them—we are made to feel them as well.

Note: I came across this at our public library, so check yours out.

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