The Circle

91 minutes

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Mirror) takes a giant step forward with his third feature (2000), shifting his focus from little girls to grown women and presenting such a scorching look at what they put up with in their daily lives that it's no surprise the film was banned in his native country. This masterpiece is radical in form as well: it begins one morning in a hospital and ends that evening in a jail cell, the camera revolving 360 degrees in each space, and its narrative passes from one character to the next as in Luis Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty (and Richard Linklater's Slacker). Extremely realistic yet highly artificial in structure, it's dazzling as a whole (if occasionally overloaded), recalling the Warner Brothers proletarian quickies of the 30s and the noir thrillers of the 40s (an effect enhanced by the fact that some of the women characters are fresh out of prison). The most talented disciple of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi actually tops him at leaving things out of a story to tantalize the viewer; he uses these ellipses for political as well as aesthetic ends, trusting the audience's decency as well as its imagination. You can't afford to miss this. In Farsi with subtitles.

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