The oppressed Iranian women featured in this Circle of life ain't exactly hummin' "Hakuna Matata." Heck, it's hard for anyone to crack a smile in this bleak but beautifully rendered film as it plays tag-you're-it with the plot, shifting from one character's desperate story to another. During its course, we meet two escaped female prisoners, another former inmate anxiously trying to get an abortion and a mother who abandons her young daughter--so the child can have a better life.
All the while, nervous police, looking for the escapees, cruise the crowded streets of Tehran. Where, by the way, women aren't even allowed to stay out on their own smoke in public. Director Jafar Panahi achieves a potent sense of realism with handheld camerawork, lingering shots of his ill-fated characters' faces and credible performances from the largely nonprofessional cast. The feel-good flick of the spring? Hardly. But an emotionally and politically well-rounded one, for sure.
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