Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Pariah vs. Circumstance




Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Pariah vs. Circumstance, two films about being a teenaged lesbian in a community where that sort of thing isn’t looked upon kindly.









In Pariah, Alike (pronounced Uh-lee-kay) is a 17-year-old girl whose parents seem to sense what she already knows—that she’s a lesbian—and are reluctant to accept it. Her father stoically denies it; her mother acts out by buying Alike girly pink cardigans and screaming at Alike’s father that his daughter is “becoming a man.” Alike, for her part, finds solace in going to strip clubs with her butch best friend, trying to find a girlfriend, and, apparently, writing some poetry! In Circumstance, 16-year-old Iranian teenagers Shireen and Atafeh struggle against the repressive society in which they live, going to underground parties, doing drugs, swimming, and dabbling in sex—sometimes with each other, it would appear! Everything seems to be going okay in this trailer, until a police car starts tailing the girls’ car, sirens a-blaring, and then it’s all disappointed dads and crying in the kitchen. There are so many similar elements here that we’re hard-pressed to choose one over the other. Advantage: Tie

Repressive Setting
Since both films’ plots revolve around young gay people in unsupportive communities, it’s probably worth taking a look at what those communities are. Alike lives in a predominantly black community in Brooklyn—and it’s easy to see from the trailer that within her family, at least, homosexuality isn’t tolerated. They’re all, “Who are you going to Homecoming with?” and “Wear this pink sweater.” That’s tough! But if she’s in Brooklyn, Alike’s no more than a few miles away from lower Manhattan, where it would be easy for her to find a supportive community. Pariah loses out because an escape—even a temporary one—is so close by. The girls of Circumstance don’t have that option: homosexuality is still a crime in Iran, and the penalty for lesbian acts is 100 lashes (for the first three offenses) and death (thereafter). We don’t envy either situation, but the latter’s a lot scarier. Advantage: Circumstance

stars Adepero Oduye, who’s come along way since her 2006 credit as “crack smoker” in Half Nelson! She’s had quite a few roles, mostly in short films and TV, since then. Supporting Oduye are some familiar faces, like Kim Wayans (In Living Color, sister of the Wayans brothers), Aasha Davis (Friday Night Lights), and Charles Parnell (All My Children). Circumstance stars Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy, both of whom are very pretty, but this film is also the only IMDb credit for both. Pariah has more established talent, at least in this hemisphere. Advantage: Pariah

Both films premiered in competition at Sundance this year, in the same category: US Dramatic. (We’re a little confused about why Circumstance qualified for that category—it was shot in Beirut and the dialogue is in Persian—but far be it from us to presume to understand festival rules.) Neither won—Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy did—but each picked up an award. Pariah won for Cinematography, while Circumstance won the Audience Award. Both have also gotten great reviews, so they’re equal on both of those counts. And both played at New Directors/New Films in New York this spring. But Circumstance has also played at a couple of other festivals, including San Francisco and Boston, while Pariah hasn’t. Advantage: Circumstance

Pariah was directed by Dee Rees, the writer-director of three short films (including a shorter version of this story) and a documentary called Eventual Salvation, which follows Rees’ 80-year-old grandmother as she returns to Monrovia, Liberia after the civil war there. She’s won a bunch of awards at festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and Los Angeles, most of them for the short film upon which Pariah expands. Circumstance was directed by Maryam Keshavarz, whose credentials are very similar: one documentary and two shorts, as well as producing credits on several other films. She’s won some awards, too, including two at Berlin. They’re on pretty equal footing, but Rees just barely edges Keshavarz out with nine awards to Keshavarz’s four. Advantage: Pariah

Sexy Behavior
There’s some sexy business in both of these trailers! In fact, there’s at least one instance of almost identical sexy business: two girls in bed, one drawing her fingers lazily over the other’s stomach (at 1:22 in Pariah and 1:55 in Circumstance). Who knew that was what the kids were into these days? Those particular shots cancel each other out, so we’ll go with what’s left: in Pariah, Alike attends a strip club a couple of times, and a stripper does some graceful upside-down dancing (0:35); and Alike, or possibly someone else, takes her tank top off (1:48). Mostly, though, it doesn’t seem like a sexy-type movie. In Circumstance, Shireen and Atafeh go swimming in their underwear (0:46), gyrate in the living room (1:05) and the club (1:12), spoon (1:39), wrestle (1:49), and even pass an origami crane during roll call in a way that seems sort of sexy (0:48). It’s like they knew in advance that this would be a category, and they’re going all out to win it. Advantage: Circumstance

The Verdict
This is another week where the decision is tough, because both of the films look great – and, to put a finer point on it, both of the films look like the kind of thing we want to financially support so that more films like them come out in the future. (We’ll also say we feel great about the fact that this is the second week in a row wherein both the films in our face-off were directed by women—that doesn’t happen often enough!) But if we have to pick, we’ll say we’re more interested in Circumstance—we’re a sucker for drama, and it seems like the stakes are higher. See them both, though! Winner: Circumstance