A SEPARATION Review

"A Separation" is an Iranian film that has already won best foreign language film at the Golden Globes and is the film you will likely see take that same prize at the Oscars next month. It was out of pure interest in the hype surrounding the film that I had to see what all the fuss was about. I would like to be more acquainted with the landscape of cinema in Iran to know how this particular film compares to others that are released and are more accessible to the people of Iran. We are unable to know this unless we seek these films out though and since I usually stick with American cinema I can only compare what I have seen here to what I have become accustomed to. In this regard "A Separation" is unlike many films I have seen this year. Every now and then a small art house drama will contain the emotion and dynamics of such a film as "A Separation", but never have I felt more involved in a film than I was here. It was literally as if I wanted to step in between our two sets of characters and defend the reasons for the way each of them had acted. There is a real humanity to the script and writer/director Asghar Farhadi should be credited for such fluent and snappy dialogue that feels nothing short of authentic. It was strange, in a way, to see this world that in livelihood might feel as foreign as it actually is, but in the dispute, in the conflict the plot presents us with it could not have been more universal. This doesn't only make it relatable for anyone who watches it, but it speaks volumes about who we are as a race. We seemingly have the same instincts no matter race, religion, or nationality. To make the best lives for ourselves no matter the cost, and we see this from several perspectives in "A Separation". None of which are wrong.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) helps his Alzheimer-affected
father back to their house.
A lot of that first paragraph might not have made sense if you are unfamiliar with the story "A Separation" is telling, but you might have at least gathered it is a very basic human story. From the opening scene where husband and wife Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) stare right into the camera (which is positioned as the judge) and discuss their reasons for getting a divorce we see the spark of tone that will continue through the rest of the film, that basic thought of putting yourself in anothers shoes is taken to a whole other level. Simin wants to leave Iran and take their daughter Termeh with her because she believes she can give her a better upbringing elsewhere but Nader refuses to go with her as he feels responsibility to stay and take care of his Alzheimer-suffering father. The judge denies their request for a divorce and so Simin returns to live with her parents leaving Nader to have to find assistance to help with his father in his wife's absence. Termeh stays with her father, hoping this decision might not allow her mother the ability to stray too far from them. From the moment we meet Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the woman applying for the maid position, there is something slightly curious about her. As a young woman desperate for work she seems unable to compromise with her employers requests. The look in her eyes is one of tepid fear, constantly unsure if she is doing the right thing, always second guessing herself. When Nader and Termeh return home early one day to find Nader's father's arm tied to his bed post, nearly dead, and the house empty things begin to get more complicated rather than settling down as Nader no doubt hoped they would.

Razieh (Sareh Bayat) and her young daughter make their
way to Nader's to care for his father.
Yes, Razieh returns to Nader's house only to be confronted about why she would do such a thing or even leave her job, her responsibility, in the middle of the day. As expected Razieh is reclusive about giving reasons or excuses even. She simply defends it was something she had to do and did not anticipate being gone so long. There is so much more complexity to the script it is impossible to describe every aspect to give you a full picture, but the importance of what is going on certainly goes from a trivial argument to something much more serious. The interesting thing about the film though is that we never look at either side as good or bad. There are no distinct lines that are ever drawn. We are naturally pulled to side with Nader in the beginning as what Razieh did seems inexcusable, and it is, but in the events unfolding after Nader kicks her out of his house we, as an audience, question our allegiance every other scene. Farhadi layers the story so brilliantly that we hardly have time to anticipate the next twist as we are adjusting our minds to the last revelation and what that means to the situation in a broad picture. It is virtually impossible to not put every ounce of focus into what is going on in the film. It demands our attention. While the structure of the the film follows a kind of domestic drama it is more about the actual humans in the story rather than the plot of the film. While the story is of course the most important thing and is the basis for any innovative film, the fact that these characters are so true and familiar is what strikes you about this piece of work. These people are simply trying to fight for truth, for what they believe in and what interestingly holds them back, creates more sorrow even, is the regulations of the system in which they exist.

Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is angered at Nader after he
denies what Razieh accuses him of.
The performances are clearly a huge factor in the authenticity of these characters we watch go through whats essentially a very direct story. It is the human element they bring to their roles that makes this not just an open and shut case, but one where we assess the situation from Nader's perspective as well as from Razieh's and her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini ). It is almost deceptive in its simplistic approach to how we think the story might play out. We don't imagine things spiraling out of control to the point we are forced to assess our own lives and choices. Again, it is almost striking at times how familiar this all feels while clearly feeling a distance in the culture. Going in to this I had no expectations of what the story would deliver; all I knew is that it had received great reviews and had placed on many critics top 10 lists of the year. I wondered what might be so appealing about a foreign film that so many people in a different country would find it engaging. The answer is simple in that it addresses universal issues of divorce and more delicately how a marriage might disolve. It takes on so much more though and delivers each passionate argument and testimony with real humanity in a world filled with inhumanity. It is the most engaging of films and deserves to be seen no matter if you find reading subtitles a burden or not.