The Circle begins with what should be a blessed event: the birth of a child. And it would be, except for one tiny problem. It’s a girl, and the mother’s in-laws were expecting a boy. And in Iran, that’s reason enough for divorce, thrusting new mother Solmaz (whom we never see) and the newborn into an uncertain future. And so begins The Circle, acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s incisive and troubling look into the perils facing Iranian women.
The film introduces us to a number of women whose stories are loosely intertwined (one of the only joys of watching this sad film is the graceful way in which Panahi moves between their stories, regardless of how tangential they might be). When Solmaz’ mother leaves the hospital, we meet Arezou and Nargess, two women who have just been released from prison and are trying to make their way to Nargess’ home village, where they hope to start anew. When their companion is arrested (for what, we don’t know—the women’s crimes are left vague, almost implying that their real crime is simply being female), the two are left the fend for themselves with little money and even fewer friends.
We then meet Pari, whom Arezou and Nargess are attempting to contact. Pari was also an inmate, but has escaped to get an abortion. Unable to get one because her husband is dead, and having been abandoned by her family, she turns to Elham, a former inmate who has since married a doctor. However, Elham refuses to help, fearful that her husband’s family might learn of her shameful past. Abandoned once again, Pari returns to the streets and runs into Nayereh, a poor woman who has abandoned her daughter in the hopes that some wealthy family might take her in. And so it goes.