Directed by Jafar Panahi, starring Maryiam Parvin Almani, Nargress Mamizadeh and Fereshteh Sadr Orafai.

A controversial film from the heart of Tehran, 'The Circle' provides a unique, if brief, insight into the plight of Iranian woman. The film follows different women through a single day in Tehran. As their paths cross, parallels emerge – all the women seek escape and have been punished for it. Their stories are practically interchangeable, showing the plight of Middle Eastern women as classless and ageless.

The opening credits roll to the screams of a woman in labour, resulting in an unexpected and unwanted baby girl. Moving from the labour wards the camera catches up with three women on day release from prison who are attempting an escape. We are not told why the women were detained. Later the camera picks up the story of Pari, a pregnant woman who has escaped from prison after her husband was executed. Again, no reason is presented for the imprisonment and the woman is now considered unmarried, as her husband is dead.

The day encompasses the larger cycle of patriarchy and surveillance that governs the women’s lives from birth to death. The footage is filmed in a quasi-documentary style with long takes and hand-held shots helping to convey the immediacy of the women’s desperation. The film cleverly and economically illustrates the cloaked lives of woman in Iran.

Doors are closed to the viewer and only parts of the stories are told, resulting in a stifling atmosphere as we only get a fleeting glimpse of the extreme oppression. All the action takes place in the street or in public buildings – we do not have access to private lives. This serves to reinforce the plight of the women as their frustration becomes palpable.

The circle drawn by the day’s events is completed by a bleak ending, which can also be read as a female circle of hope, and resistance to oppression. 'The Circle' is a brave and uncompromising film that does much, but unfortunately not enough, to expose a notoriously closed and backward society.

Elizabeth O'Neill