TL;DR: Watching good people struggle through painful, complicated situations is no easy feat. “A Separation” tenderly plants the viewer in the centre of a certain Iranian family’s dilemma, asks you politely to care about them and follow their arduous emotional traipse through unforeseen consequences where no-one and everyone is to blame.
I’ve seen more than my fair share of foreign cinema but never an Iranian film, until now. Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” cleverly lifts the veil on daily life in a place relatively misunderstood by the western world to be a warzone and particularly underdeveloped.
The film opens with Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) presenting their cases for divorce to an official. Simin wants to leave the country in search of a better future for their family, particularly their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) whilst Nader is obligated to stay and care for his elderly father who is suffering end-stage Alzheimer’s disease; a heart-wrenching predicament in itself. No agreement is established thus Simin moves out and stays with her parents meaning Nader has to hire someone to look after his father while he’s at work and Termeh is at school.
The plot kick-starts from this point and snowballs into an argument with the hired carer over stolen money and consequently a heated scuffle results in a push which leads to a fall and apparently a miscarriage. The rest of the film is a steady, un-biased investigation into who should be rightfully sentenced, everyone is interrogated as to what they knew at exactly what time (Nader’s knowledge of his father’s carer’s pregnancy is cleverly contained as a single line of dialogue in a conversation he wasn’t involved in, just near to, leaving us unsure if he was aware he could commit murder by causing a miscarriage) and finding out who’s telling the truth becomes the primary focus though for plot purposes some of this is hidden from the viewer as it happens.
This plot is stitched onto the marvellously interesting fabric of Iran and everything that entails. The family apartment is modest yet decorated and maintained stylishly and culturally appropriately. Termeh is dropped off through a flurry of dusty cars each morning to a busy modern school. Furthermore, there are clear indications of the nation’s religious nature which in turn shows us a snapshot of the roles of men and women. An example, Nader invites a woman to care for his father as social care is considered more womanly though problems arise when the father soils himself and the carer has to consult her religious advisor as to whether helping (or not helping) the man is an act of sin on her part. She also doesn’t tell her husband that she’s working in another man’s house without his wife being present, another breakage of Muslim values.
The crux of the film is that every single important character is a relatively good, well-rounded person who is devout to their religion but their conscience and the nit-bits of information they care to share with each other don’t allow the judicial system to find a particularly fair judgement. In the middle of it all Termeh is pulled back and forth, weighing her alliances to her mother and father so selflessly but never letting her dream of their reunion die.
Moments like these happen all the time in real life. Often a series of unfortunate events during difficult times and an act of madness under extreme stress or pressure can change one’s life drastically and it’s even worse when the only people involved are honest, good and un-deserving of potentially harsh judicial punishment. “A Separation” is a touching, humanistic drama focusing on the difficulties of family-orientated decision making and how law and religion don’t always complement one another.
A wonderfully scripted piece, 8.6/10.