A Separation (2011)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s I for Iran: A History of Iranian Cinema. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
It takes just minutes to realize that the plot of A Separation, director Asghar Farhadi’s Academy Award winning 2012 film, is at most an endeavor into the complicated domestic life of an Iranian middle-class family. Like many of Farhadi’s films, the arduous obstacles around familial clashes (in this case, the eponymous separation between a husband and wife) become more convoluted by the second, often bearing far grander ramifications than perceived at first glance. In A Separation, just a handful of moments (a fall and a shove, among others) define the final outcome of the film, but the road to a clear solution is far from apparent.
In A Separation, just a handful of moments (a fall and a shove, among others) define the final outcome of the film, but the road to a clear solution is far from apparent.
Simin (Leila Hatamai) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are perhaps circling the drain of their marriage, as Simin wishes for the family to move abroad in hopes for a better adolescent experience for their daughter. The film opens as the two plead their cases before a family court, but a divorce very clearly is not in the cards-11-year-old Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) complicates the split, and instead Simin leaves the house to stay with her parents as a trial separation. Nader is left to contend with the many duties which accompany their middle-class lifestyle, including the scheduling of his daughter’s tutor, her transportation to and from school, and hiring a new caretaker for both the apartment and his ailing father. Soon thereafter, a dispute between the new hire, a devout woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayet), her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), and Nader spirals out of control, leaving Nader to deal with the conflict while already in a convoluted mindset.
Farhadi has a resume filled with films that work within the construct of marriage. From the divorce that spurs much of the conflict in Dancing in the Dust to the overlapping marital relationships in Fireworks Wednesday, the famed director is no stranger to utilizing the complications of nuptial bonds as a precursor to greater truths about social class and how acquaintances relate to one another (topics which occur frequently in Iranian cinema). In A Separation, the dispute and separation between Nader and Simin initially serves as a catalyst to the intense narrative, ushering in the overwhelming nature of the dispute between their family and their household help. However, as soon as Simin re-enters the fray, we are truly able to see how the couple’s perspectives are so vastly different. Despite their physical separation for much of the film (as well as Simin’s general absence), the two have a conversation near the climax of the film (if one could pinpoint a single climax) which colors their beliefs and actions over the previous hour and a half, expounding on their decisions and why they are, perhaps, two incompatible people.
Farhadi time and again proves to be a creative force in filmmaking, and A Separation stands as one of the finest films of the last decade, foreign-language or otherwise.
As A Separation reaches its final third, the many frayed ends that had spent the better part of an hour overwhelming Nader as he attempts to shield his young daughter from the perils of adulthood begin to coalesce, as court dates approach and his wife returns to the fold. Farhadi’s flawless script places the next problem just around the corner, making for a damn compelling story without ever seeming just-too-convenient to feel sympathetic. Powerful as well are the performances from the entire cast, particularly on the part of Hatami and Moaadi, who are just endearing enough to make it difficult to choose sides, putting the audience in the awkward position in which their daughter finds herself.
The film has a breakneck pace, with hardly any beats of silence-the family lives in Tehran, the largest city in Iran, and much of the film unfolds at the particularly busy courthouse. However, careful dialogue and precise editing help relieve A Separation from any feeling of rushing, and instead simply reflects how the duties of the householder can stack up so easily in real life (dropping off Termeh at school, working full-time at a bank, and continuing to care for an ailing father). The pace supersedes the fact that there is no score in A Separation, a fact not entirely noticeable until the piano slowly enters while the final shot holds and the credits begin to roll. This moment of quiet lucidity hits hard, particularly after the intensity of the film up to and including the final scenes.
Farhadi time and again proves to be a creative force in filmmaking, and A Separation stands as one of the finest films of the last decade, foreign-language or otherwise. From the pointed ferocity of a domestic argument to the intimacy of learning by trial the true personality of your partner, the film prevails as a testament to the cinematic possibilities in exploring the drama and moral ambiguity of everyday life. Spanning social classes and generations, A Separation is heartbreaking and gorgeous, and is a must-see for film lovers of all kinds.
The film prevails as a testament to the cinematic possibilities in exploring the drama and moral ambiguity of everyday life. Spanning social classes and generations, A Separation is heartbreaking and gorgeous, and is a must-see for film lovers of all kinds.