Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Circle



Iran 2000 : Jafar Panahi : 91 mins

The Circle may be too boring, too often, to work as a film, but it’s still an admirable use of celluloid. Director Panahi exposes how modern Iran routinely, shamefully oppresses its females – hand-held camerawork gives a convincingly from-the-streets feel to a series of interconnected stories as we pass, semi-randomly, from woman to woman. The main focus is on three recently released (escaped?) prisoners, but this is a proper ensemble piece with no weak links in the circular chain.

This roundelay format is an interesting way to structure a film, but the execution is distinctly uneven: there are several moments when the characters are waiting around and the movie grinds to a tedious halt. We’re supposed to be experiencing their tedium, of course, but there are ways of doing this without sending the audience to sleep. Jacques Rivette took a similar ‘show everything’ approach in his 1997 thriller Secret Defense, which was about twice as long as The Circle but never dragged for a second.

The Circle is worth sticking with, however, if only for an almost unbearably powerful scene late on where a desperate mother tries to abandon her sweet young daughter on the streets. It’s a tense, horrifying sequence with a heartbreaking performance from the kid, and, best of all, there’s no easy resolution. The camera just moves on, driven by a compulsive need to record injustice and broadcast the results to the wider world. Trouble is, if the wider world isn’t awake, how is it supposed to listen?

28th October, 2001
(seen Oct-13-01, Cornerhouse, Manchester)

by Neil Young