A Separation

4 Jan

Title: A Separation
Year: 2011
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic material
Runtime: 123 min
IMDb Rating: 8.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Metacritic: 94

 

The Best Foreign Language category at the Oscar’s is always incredibly tough to predict, mostly because it’s rare that I’ve seen all of the nominees, but also because it’s just a damn hard category to call. Some really great films have come out winners of that category in the past decade, of course, Mar Adentro, The Lives of Others (somehow beating Pan’s Labyrinth) and the brilliant Argentine thriller El Secreto de Sus Ojos are just a trio of examples, but the thing is, every year this is the toughest category to call in my opinion, alongside the short-format ones. This year, however, I don’t care which other four films are nominated, but if the Best Foreign Language Oscar doesn’t go to the Iranian entry, A Separation, the something will be just horribly wrong with the Academy members. This film is just damn near perfect.

This is seriously an amazing film, and it’s one that, with no big-name stars, probably not even faces you’ve seen before at all, will be a reminder of the power films can have just by themselves, of the stuff they can bring to the table and, more importantly, of the stuff they can make you leave the theater with, debates about the themes it presented ready to be had with anyone else who’s seen it and loved it. It’s powerful and riveting filmmaking of the highest class, a domestic drama  that starts making some really incredible observations of the human condition, of our motivations and behaviors and that, by doing so, isn’t afraid to ask some really complex and at times painful questions about morality that the vast majority of films won’t even come close to asking.

Just the way it’s structured is impeccable; written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the film opens with a couple arguing in front of a judge. Simin, the wife, wants to leave Iran with their daughter, Termeh, in order to be able to give her a better life, while the husband, Nader, wants to stay in Tehran to care for his elderly father who needs constant care and attention as he suffers from dementia. Of course you get the gist that while these are the tangible matters at hand, those that can be discussed inside a courtroom, also present are other underlying tensions that cripple the marriage of Simin and Nader, a marriage that Simin is intent on ending with a separation and leaving the nation, but that of course won’t come as easily as that in such a male-dominated country.

It’s amazing what Mr. Farhadi does after opening the film with the titular separation taking place and Simin wanting to end her fourteen-year marriage and leave the country with their eleven-year-old. He uses that event to show us the heart of the modern Iranian state, using it to comment on the institution of marriage, the responsibility of parents, the role of justice and the importance of class. And it never once feels forced, the film goes on to tackle such complex topics so masterfully, but the direction is so assured, the acting is so impeccable and the screenplay is just so, so masterfully structured that it all feels very organic, never once making a big show about anything but instead letting things happen naturally, and being all the more affecting because of it. It’s just as very honest film and that, in presenting an Iranian society in which class, religion and gender are ruling factors, will also look alarmingly familiar even if you think your reality couldn’t be more different.

The separation grows complex as Nader refuses to agree to the divorce and also refuses to let his daughter travel abroad, which makes Simin leave him to live at her parents, and has Nader hiring Razieh, a young woman with an unemployed husband and a daughter of her own, to take care of his ailing father. Events happen with Razieh as Nader accuses her of abusing his father that lead him straight back to court, his family, Simin and Termeh in tow, pitted against the pregnant Razieh and her husband in front of a judge that could bring forth some serious consequences for everyone involved, especially Termeh, who’s played impressively well by Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter. The tension of that situation amplified by the fact that Hodjat, Razieh’s husband, sees Nader and Simin as a kind of arrogant elite, with a lack of respect for religion and condescension towards working men like him.

These are some terrific performances by absolutely everyone involved, and when the characters may seem like stereotypes the actors do so much to uncover so much depth in them. And with what drives each of them, mostly feelings of self-interest, Mr. Farhadi creates an amazing portrayal of life, not so much interested in the eventual outcome but in the steps his characters take to get there, and how he watches not only the complex situations they’re in, but also the routine, trivial every-day frustrations of life, those little things do just as much for this film as the bigger things do, and it helps it achieve a sublime kind of balance through it all.

A Separation is an impeccable kind of film, just masterfully written, directed and acted, and the fact that it stays with you for so long after you watch it, because trust me when I say you won’t be able to get it out of your head, is just amazing, making you ask yourself all kinds of ethical and philosophical questions. This is the power of filmmaking, and I love that it was an Iranian film with no big-name stars that made such an impact this year. One of the year’s finest films, that’s for sure.

Grade: A

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