director Asghar Farhadi
A Separation was last year’s winner of Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. It took me a whole year to getting around to see it. Not sure why. Just did.
It’s a very good film, a family drama set in Tehran. A middle class husband and wife separate, per the title, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), because Simin wants to leave the country and Nader wants to stay, primarily to care for his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. Though Simin states this in the film’s opening, speaking to a judge who is trying their case, it’s never really delved into, the significance to leaving Iran versus staying. The biggest concern for the couple is their 11 year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) and what she wants. She opts to stay with her father.
What unfolds, the main narrative of the film, stems from the circumstances of the change in their lives. Nader takes on a caretaker for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a very devout woman of a more working class family. She is pregnant and not strong enough to care for the increasingly incoherent man and her young daughter who stays with her. At one point, the old man goes into the street and she has to chase him down. And the next day, Nader returns home to find his father abandoned, tied to the bed, and in very bad shape, no Razieh around. She returns and a confrontation ensues, in which Nader shoves Razieh out of the door. She falls. She eventually has a miscarriage.
The film spends a lot of time in the various legal situations. Nader is accused of murder, causing the miscarriage. Nader accuses Razieh of elder abuse. Razieh’s violent, emotional husband gets out of hand, is threatened with jail time, as well. The court hearings are set in small rooms, with a judge just across a desk from complainants who site next to one another in a small row of chairs. A scribe or stenographer is there too. It’s interestingly free of bureaucracy; simple face-to-face human judgment. The film itself maintains a humanistic perspective, portraying all parties as decent but flawed people caught in situations of dire stress.
Film-making in Iran is managed politically by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (oddly enough portrayed in Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012), when even non-Iranian productions are to be filmed in the country) and for a film like A Separation to be released, it had to pass muster with that office. Director Asghar Farhadi was at one point subjected to punishment for statements he made in support of other Iranian filmmakers who have fallen on the wrong side of the ministry. So, it’s a film that met qualifications to tell its human story.
The film is interesting to me because of its urban setting. These families are people with very recognizable ideals and problems, transcending aspects of cultural difference. But the film is also very much of its culture, the court systems, the schools, the class differences, the overall situation of all involved that offers a vantage on life in Tehran, an image crafted from within. Other Iranian films that I’ve seen have been set more often in the countryside or small villages, so seeing the urban life and landscapes I found quite compelling. The performances are all very fine as well.
It’s certainly a good movie. I’m glad to have seen it.