Mark Reviews Movies

A Separation


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Cast: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Merila Zare'i, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Kimia Hosseini

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material)

Running Time: 2:03

Release Date: 12/30/11 (limited); 1/27/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 26, 2012

A Separation opens with a three-way discussion between a wife, her husband, and a court official as they debate whether or not the couple can get a divorce. It's a long take, looking straight on at the wife and husband from the point of view of the unseen judge, and in visual terms, it puts us in the uncomfortable role of the adjudicator—weighing both of their arguments and looking for some insight into where the disagreement lies. That is the position in which we sit for the remainder of the film until the funhouse-mirror image of the opening shot that serves as the film's final one.

The main concern is their adolescent daughter; both want custody of her. Surely the judge (and we, of course) can understand that the father wants to keep his daughter close, especially if his wife leaves. After all, his own father is ill, and the three of them have taken to caring for him. Without the wife in the picture, that care will certainly be diminished. If and when he dies, then, the husband will be left alone without any family. This is unspoken; it is, as we will learn, an undeniable factor in his motivation to fight against divorce.

Surely, though, the judge (and, again, we) can see the wife's side of things. She will not only be leaving her husband but also her homeland. She has an opportunity elsewhere (Exactly where is unknown), and she wants her daughter to have at least the same chance at a better life that she does. She simply cannot leave her daughter behind in a place that will not allow her to flourish.

Writer/director Asghar Farhadi's screenplay then jolts us into the specifics of this scenario by giving our perspective a voice that will be entirely alien to certain ears. Certainly, we hear the voice of the concealed judge tell Simin (Leila Hatami), there is no reason for her to believe that her daughter will not have opportunities in the land of her birth. Could it be that she is suggesting there is something wrong with her country and its government? Surely, she would not dare to speak ill of Iran.

This is an impasse for Simin. The thrust of her case is that she would be better suited to raise her and Nader's (Peyman Moadi) daughter because she will be leaving Iran and a system of government that is so oppressive that an official simply suggesting that one of its citizens might be criticizing it is enough to halt that person's speech. Farhadi never discloses the details of the reason for Simin's desire to leave Tehran; the implication is that she really does not need a reason beyond what we witness in this opening scene alone—the tenor of which has more than likely played out in varying ways throughout her life.

Farhadi returns to Nader's homelife. Simin has decided to move out of the house and live with her parents in the interim before ultimately leaving Iran—she hopes—with her daughter. Their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the daughter of the writer/director) is still in school, and Nader works. The situation would leave Nader's father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer's, alone for most of the day. Simin suggests her husband hire Razieh (Sareh Bayat), the acquaintance of a friend, to care for his father during the day.

Razieh is pregnant and has a young daughter named Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini). Her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) has been and currently is in trouble with the law due to outstanding debts. Razieh takes the job of caring for Nader's father behind her husband's back, a necessity that she considers wrong nonetheless.

The work is overwhelming for Razieh, especially when she discovers that the sick man is more ill than Nader led her to believe, though that comes from his own denial. She is uncomfortable being alone with a man, particularly one for whom she might need to change his clothes, for religious reasons. She tries to have her husband take over the job, but because of his legal troubles, he is unable to do so.

The film serves as a compelling enough observation of the day-to-day crises that face these two families, and then matters become more complicated. Razieh must leave Nader's apartment, and Nader and Termeh return to find his father tied to a bed. When she returns, Nader lashes out in justifiable anger at Razieh, who also, it appears, took money from him. Nader soon finds himself facing yet another legal inquiry; this time, due to the religious fundamentalism of Iran's justice system, the consequences could be severe.

The opening scene, which puts forward more questions than the film can (or should, for that matter) answer, is the cornerstone to the investigation—both by the judiciary of the circumstances and by the main characters of themselves—that follows the central event and its resulting tragedy. It follows how Nader, Termeh (upon whom her father places a heavy burden of deciding what he should do), and Razieh try to weigh how many secrets they can keep and lies they can tell for the better good of maintaining life as it is but without sacrificing their own moral code.

The mystery, of course, cannot last, and, indeed, the last act takes a few turns into the realm of the melodramatic as the facts reveal themselves. Even so, A Separation is an astutely observed examination of ordinary people living under a system that seems to exist solely to ensure that its citizens are imprisoned, if not physically than psychologically, within its irrational rules.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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