Monday, January 23, 2012

Movie Review: A Separation

A Separation ****
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi.
Written by: Asghar Farhadi.
Starring: Peyman Moaadi (Nader), Leila Hatami (Simin), Sareh Bayat (Razieh), Shahab Hosseini (Hodjat), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Merila Zare'i (Miss Ghahraii), Ali-Asghar Shahbazi (Nader's Father), Babak Karimi (Interrogator), Kimia Hosseini (Somayeh).

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is an Iranian film, firmly grounded in that country’s societal and legal systems, and yet as the movie progresses, it becomes a more universal story. It has a fascinating moral conflict at its heart and Farhadi only gradually reveals the full implications of what has happened. Some have called the film an Iranian Rashomon, and that is accurate to a point – throughout the movie, we do get to see everything from different viewpoints and as such the assumptions we developed earlier in the movie are challenged. It is impossible, at least for me, to determine who, if anyone was right and who was wrong. The bottom line however, is that lives are destroyed.

The film opens with Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) in front of a judge. They have been married for years, but now she wants a divorce. They had agreed to leave Iran to raise their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi – the director’s real life daughter) elsewhere, but now Nader’s father has become incapacitated with Alzheimer’s. Simin does not see how this should affect their plays – half the time, he doesn’t even realize who they are, so they can put him in a home. But Nader is refusing. And because this is Iran, the husband needs to give his consent for divorce – and he also gets to decide what happens to Termeh. And Nader is adamant – Termeh is staying with him.

Simin does move out of their apartment however, which forces Nader to hire some help. He works, and he cannot leave his father home alone. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who is pregnant and has a daughter Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini) who comes with her every day to work. Her husband is unemployed, so they need the money. Razieh is strictly religious, and her new job almost immediately causes a conflict for her when Nader’s father soils himself. It’s not right that she, a married woman, would be expected to clean up another man.

Things come to a head when Nader returns home early from work one day to find his father with one arm tied to his, lying on the floor, behind a locked door barely breathing, with Razieh nowhere to be found, and apparently some money missing from a drawer. Razieh shows up a short while later, and Nader is understandably upset. He yells at Razieh and refuses to pay her. She refuses to leave, and so, he shoves her out the door – and she falls down the stairs, which causes a miscarriage. Now, everyone has to go to another court – mirroring the separation proceedings that begin the film.

All of this happens fairly early in A Separation. It is what happens after the incident that makes up the heart of the movie. Smartly, Farhadi shoots the shoving incident in such a way that it is impossible to tell who is telling the truth about it. There was physical contact, but how much? How did she fall down the stairs, which were not directly in front of the door? Did Nader know that Razieh was pregnant? He says he didn’t, but she has witnesses that can vouch for the fact that he was in the room when she mentioned it to someone else. But was he listening?

The question of guilt or innocence becomes clouded, because there is so much else going on in the movie. Nader was upset – and rightfully so – that his father was left unattended, and as a result, almost died. But why did Razieh leave? And yet, the moral puzzle at the heart of A Separation is only one aspect. There is also the class struggle. Nader and Simin are obviously middle class – upper middle class perhaps – and the difference between their home, and the home that Razieh and her angry husband live in is striking. Is the court predisposed to believe Nader because he is of higher social standing?

A Separation may seem like an odd title for this movie, because the separation between Nader and Simin takes a backseat to the court hearing about the shoving. Yet, that separation is the reason the whole thing started in the first place. Tellingly, Farhadi opens and closes the movie with the couple at court trying to sort out their separation legally. A Separation is a film that at first is seemingly simple – but the further along it goes, the deeper it gets.

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