Thursday, March 1, 2012
A Separation, a tense family drama set in contemporary Iran and written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and was nominated for Best Screenplay, both firsts for Iranian cinema. The theme of the film may sound heavy, and it is, but happily, it’s also a stunner, a brilliant tale brilliantly told that holds us in its vice-like grip from the first frame.
Nader and Simin, husband and wife, face a wrenching marital predicament. Simin wants to leave Iran to make a better life for their 11-year-old daughter, Termeh. Nader won’t leave his father, who suffers from dementia. At an impasse, Simin moves out, and Nader must hire someone to look after the old man, who can’t be left alone during the day. The caregiver, Razieh, is ill-suited for the job. She lives hours away by bus, she has a 4-year-old daughter, and her devotion to Islam should preclude her from working in a single man’s home – but she needs the money, so she does the work without telling her husband, Hodjat, who is unemployed and faces imprisonment for debt.
These two families, one middle class and secular, the other traditional and devoutly religious, become intertwined in ways disastrous to everyone. Riveting performances by the entire multi-generational cast make us feel the inevitable necessity for the white lies, deceptions and transgressions that unfold. Though a tale of crime, deceit, confrontation and violent arguments, there are, refreshingly, no clear heroes or villains, just people living their lives as best they can.
Farhadi has composed the film in layers that expertly obscure and reveal information. As new details are disclosed, it is the audience’s job to try to fit them into the pieces of the story we know so far, just as the characters try to decipher their memories and assumptions. Farhadi has found a beautiful and fitting metaphor in the windows and glass barriers in which he frames and reflects his characters. Nader’s home seems to be made almost entirely of windows and glass doors, behind and through which much of the action, and reaction, occurs. Car mirrors, bus shelters, a bank’s Plexiglas barrier and a hospital’s glass entryway: The story is about the invisible obstacles that separate husbands and wives, parents and children, the devout and the secular, the middle class and the working class, the educated and the uneducated, those with the freedom to drive their own cars and those who are tethered to the bus schedule.
So far, Farhadi has been able to make interesting and relevant films in his own country that are popular both inside and outside Iran, unlike fellow Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami, who made his last film in Europe, and Jafar Panahi, who has been sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the state.” Let’s hope that this deserving, Oscar-winning film, and the intriguing glimpse of modern Iran it has given the world, will further – not hinder – his career in his own country.
A SEPARATION (3½) • Directed by Asghar Farhadi • Starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Sareh Bayat • Rated PG-13 • 123 min • At Osio Cinemas.