The Chador-ing Classes - "The Circle" Review

By Joshua Tanzer

"The Circle" spends a few minutes each with a series of characters, illustrating, at once profoundly and shallowly, the desperation of women in Iran.

As "The Circle" opens, we're in an Iranian maternity ward at the moment of a not-so-blessed event - the birth of a child. The family has been the victim of a medical deception, they realize, when a nurse tells the new grandmother that her daughter has just had an adorable baby girl.

"A girl!" cries the distraught woman. "The ultrasound said it was a boy! The relatives will be furious - they'll insist on a divorce!"

Confusingly, this is the last we see of this situation. The film follows one woman after another in a chain of stories focusing on women's plight in Iran.

After the birth of the child, two women emerge from the hospital to call the family but find themselves constantly ducking the police, cowering in doorways and behind cars, taunted by men, just because they are women by themselves on the street. Just getting change for the phone turns out to be a monumental task.

From them, we move on to a woman searching for an abortion doctor because she is pregnant from a final visit with her husband before his execution. She is the most dramatic of the movie's characters, who are virtually powerless in their separate situations but seem to at least share a conspiratorial glint in the eye when they see one another.

"The Circle" is undoubtedly daring for a film from Iran, where, in fact, it cannot be shown. But it feels both profound and superficial at the same time. We see a number of women's struggles with their repressive society, but each for only a few, unconvincing minutes. Only the very last scene attempts to pull the entire sequence together - to bring it full circle, as it were - and it doesn't change the hasty treatment of each of the segments that came before. The film - by the director of the acclaimed but tedious "The White Balloon" - gives some quick, powerful impressions of the Iranian woman's plight, but much less than if it had paused to tell a few stories thoroughly.

Originally Published April 13, 2001

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