Movie Review: A Separation

A Separation is an Iranian film with a lot of huge buzz. It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. It won the Rogers People’s Choice Award at the Vancouver Film Festival. It has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. For this year’s Oscars, it was not only nominated in that category but Best Original Screenplay as well.

The film begins with Nader and Simin: a couple married for 14 years with an 11 year-old daughter filing for divorce. Simin wasn’t to pursue her career goals in another country and take her daughter with her. Nader wants to stay as he has a father with Alzheimer’s to deal with. The judge first rejects the grounds.

In the meantime, Simin moves in with her father and recommends Nader to employ Razieh; a young, pregnant and deeply religious woman from a poor area to look after his father. Nader can’t handle the father on his own as he has a buy job at a bank and he has to look after Termeh, his daughter. Meanwhile Razieh’s hot-tempered husband Houjat is unemployed for months and owes creditors a huge amount. Nader even has the opportunity to hire Houjat at the bank but is jailed the next day for what he owes. During the time nursing, Razieh learns that looking after Nader’s father is a big challenge, both physically and religiously. She can only do so much because of her pregnancy. She also has to consult a Muslim cleric if it’s a sin to do certain duties like change the father’s soiled pants.

One day Razieh finds the father out on the streets. She has to cross a dangerous intersection to get him back. We only see her take the father back. The next day, Nader returns home to find his father lying on the opposite side of the bed with his arm tied to the bed post. He’s alive but Nader is furious. He’s even angrier to learn that there’s missing money and accuses Razieh of stealing. He fires her despite her please. She comes back to plead again but Nader pushes her out of the door. We later hear some loud thumping outside and Razieh walking away.

The next day, Simin learns that Razieh is in the hospital. She and Nader go there to find out she suffered a miscarriage. A court is assigned to decide if Nader knew of her pregnancy and caused the miscarriage. If convicted, he could face from one to three years in prison. Accusations fly. Nader accuses Razieh of neglecting his father. Houjat is angry and threatens Nader and his family. We learn that Houjat is deeply depressed, self-destructive and on antidepressants. Razieh left the house that day because she had to see a doctor. This leaves Nader to think Houjat is abusive and may be the one to cause the miscarriage.

Termeh lies to protect Nader and Simin tries to arrange for a financial deal between the couple. Nader refutes because he feels it will be like admitting guilt. Nader later tells Termeh personally that he did in fact know of Razieh pregnancy. Razieh later reveals she was hit by a car the day before she was fired, questioning what really caused the miscarriage. Finally everyone meets at the home of Razieh and Houjat including the creditors. Nader is willing to make the cheque out to Houjat on one condition, that she swears by the Koran that his actions that day were the cause of the miscarriage. Razieh can’t do it because she believes it’s a sin and that causes Houjat to break down physically and emotionally.

The film’s last scene takes place in the courtroom as Nader and Simin’s separation is to be finalized. Termeh is given the option to decide which parent to live with. She says she made up her mind but wants her parents outside. The film ends with Nader and Simin waiting outside while families are shown out in the halls waiting.

I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the marriage situation in Iran but I believe that this film is trying to make a statement about the modern day difficulties of marriage and divorce in Iran. Divorce has been a common theme in a lot of films like Kramer vs. Kramer but it’s over here where we see an angle on divorce in Iran. We see one couple separating while another couple staying together but struggling with their issues. There’s a lot of things causing friction in both couples. One has a career pursuit in another country, another has a sick father to look after. One has to work as a nurse. Another has been unemployed for months. You see the friction happening throughout the movie. It starts with the scene of Nader and Simin in court getting the divorce started and it ends as the divorce is finalized. That ending scene with the credits rolling as Nader and Simin wait for their daughter’s decision while other families are out in the halls waiting and we could even hear shouts of another couple in court is probably a statement about the modern difficulties of marriage in Iran. Mind you it’s not completely about law and divorce. There are other examples where the law provides difficulties and not strictly in the area of divorce, like providing bail upon guilt to prove innocence and avoid a lengthy prison term. Even the scenes where Houjat has creditors to deal with paints a picture.

Another key element in the movie is the use of the Koran. As most of you know, I ran is a country with a strong Muslim ethic that’s even included in its own constitution. The Koran plays a huge role in the everyday lives of people in Iran. The influence of the Koran is very present in the movie. We see how the maid couldn’t clean the soiled clothes of the father because it was against her religion. We hear mention of the Koran and God in court. We see that Termeh has to attend and all-girls school. We see how Nader uses the Koran to get the whole truth out about the miscarriage. One thing we don’t see is the Koran solving the marriages. We see the couples either continue to be split apart or going through heavier friction.

Without a doubt, the standout qualities of the film were the direction and writing of Asghar Farhadi. He did an excellent job of creating a good story out of a hot topic. The acting of Peyman Maadi and Leila Hatami was excellent too. Very genuine without any showiness. Excellent supporting performances played by Sareh Beyat and Shahab Hosseini who played the other couple in the middle. There was also excellent acting from Sarina Farhadi, Asghar’s daughter, who played Termeh, the daughter caught in the middle. The use of no score until the very end worked as a benefit for the movie because it allowed the audience feel the intensity of the story.

A Separation shows how far Iranian cinema has come. Iran’s first breakthrough came back in 1998 when Children Of Heaven was a modest hit. It was Iran’s first nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category and established director Majid Majidi as a top international director. Now A Separation is a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film category and Asghar Farhadi is the new name in Iranian cinema. It’s also surprising to see such subject matter portrayed in Iranian cinema. You think with Iran having law and order in such a strict fashion according to Muslim law, this film would’ve been banned or censored by the Ahmadinejad government. I’m not too familiar with free speech laws in Iran but I’m sure there’s a lot of censorship.

If you see A Separation, you can easily see why it’s a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It has a excellently-written, excellently-acted story of a hot topic in its own country. Very deserving of the win indeed.

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One response

  1. […] You may remember last year I wrote about that year being the 30th for the VIFF, explaining the history and what to the festival showcases. Also you may remember the Festival records that year achieved. What’s also remarkable about last year is the Oscar success of some of the featured films from last year. The Best Picture winning The Artist was featured last year as was the Best Foreign Language Film winner A Separation. […]

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