A Separation

At its apex, the medium of film can capture a situation so perfectly that it goes beyond mere entertainment and matures into a reflection on the human experience. A presentation of characters so authentic and so raw that you forget that you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie, but have wandered into a circle of people and are now eavesdropping on their lives. A Separation is just such an experience.

Simin and Nader want a divorce. Well that’s not exactly true. Simin feels that Iran isn’t a suitable environment for their 11 year old daughter, Termeh. She wishes for all 3 of them to emigrate from Iran. But Nader’s father is not well. He has been stricken with Alzheimer’s and his health appears to be getting worse. His father is in no condition to make such a move and so Nader urges the family to stay so he may attend to his father. “He doesn’t even know you’re his son” his wife implores. “But I know he is my father!” he asserts. Nevertheless Simin is still adamant about leaving and so, Nader not wishing to stand in his wife’s way, agrees to a divorce so she may leave. However the court does not view her reasons as justification for their divorce and her request is denied.  Simin subsequently leaves to go live with her parents while their young daughter remains with her father. That’s how it starts, but that’s not where our story ends. The circumstances set the stage for a life altering chain of events.

Director Asghar Farhadi’s treatise is a deceptively simple, but morally ambitious film. It begins rather simply, but with each passing minute, the tension builds. One dilemma gives rise to another and so forth until what began as one problem has become a completely different crisis. What makes A Separation so masterful is its distillation of complex issues so that you see each person’s side equally. At one moment you feel sorry for Simin, but then you gradually understand Nader’s hardship. Then there is their daughter Termeh and her teacher Miss Ghahraei.  Nader hires deeply religious Razieh, as a nurse to take care of his father. She’s married to temperamental Houjat, her husband. Rarely has a picture portrayed a predicament so intricately unbiased that without exception, you can appreciate each individual’s perspective.  The narrative transcends what originates as a simple account dealing with a marital dispute. The film presents the rather tragic idea that sometimes the very noblest of intentions, can cause irreversible harm.

A Separation is a flawlessly directed ensemble piece. We’re introduced to a family and their acquaintances. Usually a director’s hand is apparent, guiding the viewer to a pre-ordained conclusion. In today’s world where most stories dictate there must be a hero and a villain, writer-director Farhadi is a bit of a rebel. He does not preach, but rather demonstrates life as it really is, where nuance and subtlety reign. His point of view is that he has no point of view. Farhadi simply lays humanity bare in a way that renders race, religion, and nationality irrelevant. Yes cultural differences play a part, as they would in any story regarding a group of people. Yet this not a drama about Iran, or Muslims, or even men and women. It is a drama about what it means to be human. In this way, A Separation is quite simply a masterpiece of modern cinema.

Postscript: Movies have competed for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film since 1956. In the entire history of the award only two productions from Iran have ever been nominated. The first was Children of Heaven in 1998. The second is A Separation in 2011. Here’s hoping it’s the first to actually win the award.

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12 Responses to “A Separation”

  1. A very good review Mark. I’m looking forward to this now.

  2. I too am interested by your review. I find so many movies are heavy on promoting a point of view that I don’t agree with. It will be a novel experience to see one that even portrays a situation as complexly as life is.

  3. This is a “must see”. Movie. In my eyes, this was not acting , it was real life. I was watching a real family with real tough circumstances. I was mesmerized, beginning to end. Gonna be tough to beat at the Oscars!

  4. I have to see this as soon as i can. Been hearing a lot about it

  5. LOVED this movie. It’s definitely in my top 5 of the year. It grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go. Great filmmaking.

  6. Interesting

  7. Now I’m dying to see this one. 😀 Will this be on your top ten of ’11?

  8. I’ve heard so many good things about this film, but again it’s not being shown anywhere around me unfortunately. Another one to get when it’s released on DVD or blu ray. Really excited about seeing it

  9. This just came in for me at the library. Just my luck that it happens the day I leave for ‘Frisco.

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