It’s never a nice feeling thinking you’re going to dislike a movie that is widely beloved. I felt like A Separation was going to be one of them. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because I didn’t like Le Havre very much, and it got similar praise. A Separation was screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, but I didn’t feel particularly compelled to see it. Then it showed up on the IMDB Top 250 and Roger Ebert picked it as his number one film of the year, and I was intrigued but cautious (Ebert’s number three is The Tree of Life). On the final Friday of 2011, the film received a limited release in order to just make the Oscar cut-off date.
And if it doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, there is no justice in this world.
A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Release Date: December 30th, 2011 (Limited)
There’s nothing misleading about the title of A Separation, assuming you think that it’s referring to a marital separation (which I didn’t). The film opens with Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) arguing over the future of their marriage. Simin, for reasons that are unclear, wants to leave Iran with her family (or at least her daughter). Nader refuses to leave, because he needs to take care of his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who is is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He agrees to a divorce, and the two get separated. Their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), stays with Nader, however, in an attempt to keep the family together.
Now single, Nader is forced to hire a woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) in order to take care of his father while he is at work. When she leaves the father alone and ties him up to his bed, he nearly dies and Nader kicks Razieh out of the house without paying her. Complications arise and he finds himself in court accused of some very serious charges, which he refuses to accept, and goes so far as to lie in court because he believes in his own innocence. Things escalate from there, but that’s better left for you to find out… Unless you watched the trailer, in which case you already know what complications I’m referring to.
The pacing of the story is absolutely excellent. Drama abounds at every moment, and I never found myself being bored. It doesn’t hurt that the writing is pretty amazing, although I’m sure quite a bit was lost in translation. I mentioned earlier that this film is most amazing as something of a cultural artifact. I will admit to knowing almost nothing about the people and culture of Iran, but it seems truly fascinating. I found it incredible how religion is woven into every aspect of the story and the characters’ lives (Razieh has to call someone to request the ability to change Nader’s father after he soils himself, because she is worried it is a sin). It’s completely beyond me, and I felt that was this film’s greatest strength, at least abroad. It introduces the audience to something completely different, and it does so without being completely opaque (although I’m still a bit confused about some of the characters and how they fit into the bigger picture).
Even outside of the cultural context, it’s still an excellent story. I was honestly surprised a number of times by the turns that the story took. At times it was predictable, but that would be followed up by something completely from left field (but not in a bad way). The way loyalty impacted the events (and the shifting of that loyalty) made something that was constantly compelling to watch. However, I never really felt sad about anything that was going on, even though the events themselves were sad. There was some level of connection that I never really made with what was going on screen. It wasn’t a problem, but it was definitely something I noticed.
The acting, for the most part, is excellent. I absolutely believed that these were real people brought into an unfortunate situation who were trying to do what they could to make everything better. The only exception would be with Sarina Farhadi, who plays Termeh. She did well enough most of the time, but her tears were the only ones I ever had trouble believing. She cries a lot (more than any other character), which made this a bit more of a problem. Nonetheless, she certainly didn’t spoil the movie. Her acting simply wasn’t as spectacular as everyone else’s.
The cinematography, framing, and editing are likewise excellent. There are a lot of long takes, all of which feel appropriate, and the times when there is editing, it never seemed excessive to me. In line with the themes of the film, the characters are constantly separated, both emotionally and physically. It’s a fitting technique, and I imagine watching the film a second time would make me appreciate it all the more.
What I’m basically getting at is the fact that A Separation is great. Really great. Sure, it has some issues here and there, but it more than makes up for them, especially with its portrayal of Iranian culture (I cannot stress enough how interesting it is). All of the praise it has been getting has been completely deserved, and I expect it will do well at the Academy Awards this year. And if it doesn’t? The last remaining shreds of significance that it doesn’t really have anymore will never come back.
Definitely see this one.