“Circumstance,” a first feature from Iranian-American writer-director Maryam Keshavarz, has been getting a lot of attention for its risqué subject matter. Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), a 16-year-old girl from a well-to-do Tehran family, is best friends with her less privileged schoolmate Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), whose parents, possibly executed, were political dissidents. The friendship shades into a sexual relationship as they imagine running off together to live in more liberal Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Keshavarz reveals the underground party scene in Tehran where warehouses and apartments stand in for clubs and the girls discard their head coverings and sport skimpy dresses. (The film was shot in Lebanon.) These sequences are more intriguing than either the girls’ dewy romantic confabs or the ensuing heavy-handed melodrama involving Atafeh’s Islamist fundamentalist brother (Reza Sixo Safai), a former hashish addict whose newfound mission is to root out “infidels” even within his own family.
Despite its arty veneer and its ostensibly political edge, “Circumstance” seems more interested in titillation than revelation. Grade: C+ (Rated R for sexual content, language, and some drug use.)