By Joan Ellis
Imagine a movie so real and immediate that it seems to be unfolding right in front of you. This is A Separation, Iran’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. This story of the endless complexities of marriage and family explains the wide appeal of this film. Universal institution, universal problems. Imagine further a film with no villains, just decent people reacting within the parameters of their culture to whatever life throws at them. A series of events unfolds, each one leading inevitably to the next, with the next always bringing a new set of complications.
The first extraordinary scene sets the stage for a chain of circumstance that soon envelops two families. Simin (Leila Hatami) and her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) have come before a judge because Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband and daughter for a better life. Nader refuses because he won’t leave his father who has Alzheimer’s. Right then, Simin, in a burst of anger, begs her husband to leave with her. “Your father doesn’t even know you,” she says, and he replies, “Yes, but I know he is my father.” And so we learn that we are in the presence of a top level cast, director, and writer.
Simin then sues for divorce so she can leave with her daughter. When the judge denies her motion, Simin moves back to her parents’ home. Daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) chooses to stay with her father. The cascade of problems that ensues endangers all the values so important to the family.
Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to take care of his father while he is at work. When she leaves the house on an errand that violates the tenets of care giving, the domestic routine is destroyed by circumstance. Nader is a decent man overwhelmed by a sick father and his own work. No one is wrong; everyone is decent and kind, but they are all thrown off their normal pace and into the vagaries of blame and anger by the events that began with Simin’s departure. Temeh, the daughter, demands to know the truth behind the trouble, but there is no exact truth because these are, after all, human beings.
All through its length, director Asghar Farhadi poses questions that he never answers. Would the daughter, Termeh, have had a better life if the family had emigrated? Was Razieh validated in holding the secret that unraveled two families? Did Razieh hold her damaging secret because of her husband’s violent temper?
We look to blame someone – always the easiest way – but we can’t because these are all good people under siege by circumstance and choices. As each cherished value comes under attack, the emotions of one person or another spiral upward in an emotional eruption. Credit this group of extremely fine actors with sending us away still trying to fit together the jigsaw puzzle of the human condition. That’s a gift.
Sony Pictures Classics