Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dayereh (The Circle).. Not A Review

Dayereh (2000)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Writer: Kambuzia Partovi
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 90 min
Country: Iran
Language: Persian
Color: Color
THE CIRCLE won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the 2000 Venice Film Festival.
Dayereh opens rather ominously with a black screen and the beginnings of the moaning of a woman that soon rise to screams. As a viewer you wonder is the woman is having a nightmare being assaulted or something far worse. The screams soon stop to be replaced by the sounds of an infant crying. The black screen slowly brightens to the dull grayish white walls of a door with a sliding window that is closed shut. A nurse slides it open and calls out a name. An old woman clad in a black chador approaches and is told “Congratulations.. It’s a girl!” and the window slides shut. The woman knocks tentatively on the window again and as it slides open a different nurse opens it. The woman asks about the gender of the child again and is once again told it is a girl. The old woman responds ”But the ultrasound said it would be a boy”.

The profound implications of the birth of a girl are seen on the deep lines of the woman’s mother, the news is to be passed on to the rest of the family. As the grandmother’s relative goes down the spiral stairs of the hospital to the street outside, she is asked if she has change to make a telephone call by two women, Arezou (Mariam Palvin Almani) and Nargess (Nargess Mamizadeh). And thus begins another narrative about these two women temporarily out of prison. They are trying to raise cash for a bus ticket to Nargess’s hometown a place that is supposedly paradise while they try to avoid the police. While Nargess does manage to buy a bus ticket, she does not board the bus what about Arezou? Nargess tries to see her friend Pari (Fereshteh Sadr Orfani) who has recently escaped from prison and is pregnant and unmarried and is trying to get an abortion. Unable to find anyone who can help (papers need to be signed for the procedure and permission granted by the woman’s husband), she roams the streets of Teheran and encounters a poor woman as she prepares to abandon her child (a girl) who she can no longer support.

This movie is characterized by a number of riveting yet seemingly random converging narratives, where one character’s story ends another one begins, but does it? There are motifs alluding to a circle throughout the film. The opening long continuous shot down the spiral staircase in the hospital, Nargess watching Arezou go up the circular staircase of an office building as they try to raise money, and the chilling closing scene.

I wonder if the director meant it as a metaphor for the seemingly hopeless existence of women under the rule of the conservative Islamic clergy where their lives are lived in the shadows of men no matter what their particular set of circumstances maybe. They are all treated the same, as something lesser then men whether they are simple every day tasks of life like buying a ticket, enduring lewd acts on the street which seemingly have no reprisals or the possibility that a woman’s liberty may be taken away even at the slightest hint of a lack of virtuosity.

There really are no redeeming male characters in this movie save Pari’s father who tries to protect his daughter from her brothers who seek her out with malice after her release from prison.

This movie has almost no professional actors which actually gives this movie a documentary like look thus making it more potent in its effect on the audience. Having said that, I have to say that the principal actors in Dariyeh portray their characters with stunning effect.

Dariyeh ends leaving you with a sense of discomfort and without a resolution. The film has been banned in Iran and serves as a reminder of the continuing discrimination and subjugation of women in that society. It is a gripping film not just for the subject that it deals with but also for anyone who is a fan of serious cinema. The art of film making which is always a challenge under the best of circumstances is positively Sisyphean in a country that restricts creative freedoms, which is why Jafar Panahi’s work needs to be applauded.


Aditi said...

funny i was thinking of something similar today.. not in an islamic regime though just very own indian society and the vicious circle that women sometimes seem to be caught in

MONA said...

dayireh would mean a circle.

It seems to represent the unbreach able boundary of a cage like existence.

Its strange, I have been talking about the theme of girl child lately too.

I see you are tuning to reviewing! :)

Good wishes Sanjay!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

I think you have written a very thoughtful and through review of the Iranian movie "The Circle", I really love the suspense you created with the opening was almost like I was watching the frames of the movie, not reading a review.

I think the movie shows Iranian women in two distinct roles...the victim (the new mother who could expect to be divorced if she didn't produce a male child) and the empowered female who resists oppression(the girls that ran away from prison and intent on making it on their own ). While I think it was Jafar Panahi's intent to show us that both kinds of women exist in Iran, could it be that some Iranian directors exploit the subject of "oppression of Iranian women" for the screen? Hope I don't sound too cynical, but sometimes movies are made to cater to the public.

I have to admit I did not like the ending, (oh, did I mention I saw the movie?)it was too ambiguous for me and like you say, it left one with a sense of discomfort.

Loved your "not a review", please keep them coming!

Sanjay said...

@Aditi.. Thank you for your comment. Some Indian women I guess are caught in a different kind of circle.

@Mona. You put it just right. I must go over and read your post soon. Thank you for your comment.

Sanjay said...

Lotus, Thank you so very much for your kind words and the thoughtful comment. I was really taken in my the way the movie opened, the screams of the woman could have been anything. The way the news of the birth of a girl child was delivered and recieved was also very powerful without being melodramatic.

I loved your interpretation of the movie and you make a great point about the two distinct roles of women.

You make a very thought provoking point about the possible exploitation of the state of women by some Iranian directors. You know these are mostly men making these movies, do you know of any women who have directed these movies? It is possible that these movies are being more embraced by the West and Western critics and hence receive much more visibility compared to others? Could be because it is "fashionable" in certain circles to talk about the subject of women and their oppression. That is a possibility perhaps.

No you don't sound cynical at all.

I think the ending was not meant to be nice, the circle being a metaphor that for the Iranian woman there is no escape from their own ring of oppression save death or a humiliating existence?

But it is a beautiful movie regardless.

Thank you for your comment.

ML said...

What an excellent review! I felt as though I were right there watching the movie.

Diana said...

Sounds amazing yet terribly sad, even chilling.

starry nights said...

Beautiful review of the movie.Sounds kind of sad .

Asha said...

Sounds like a good but sad movie. I watched a Afghan movie "Osama" and couldn't forget the girl in that for a long time! Makes me so sad to think about how they live and what carefree life I had!!

iz said...

Interesting. I thought India was the only country in which teh birth of a girl is considered a tragedy.

Coffee-Drinking Woman said...

Every time I stop by, I find a (not) review of another movie I want to add to my to-see list.

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