Review: A Separation

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Written by:Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Merila Zare’i
Released: March 1, 2012
Grade: A

A Separation begins rather innocuously – a married couple living in Iran are having a lengthy argument in front of a judge.  The wife, Simin (Hatami), has requested a divorce on the grounds that she wishes to leave the country and provide a better life for their 11-year-old daughter (Farhadi).  The husband, Nader (Moadi), wants to stay however.  His elderly father is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and he feels obligated to stay and take care of him.

The judge denies their divorce on the grounds that it’s a trivial dispute and that they should find a way to resolve their differences.  In the end, they agree to a separation.  Simin moves in with her mother.  Nader retains the apartment and takes interim custody of their daughter.  With no one at home during the day, he is forced to hirer a housekeeper / carer named Razieh (Bayat) to tend to his ailing father.

It takes a little while to get going but once the stage is set, A Separation transforms from a simple drama to a complex tragedy.  I feel like I shouldn’t say too much more as the story doesn’t always follow the path you’ll be expecting.

As the saying goes – you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve put yourself in their shoes.  It’s clearly a mantra that writer-director Asghar Farhadi believes in.  An outsider could see these characters as misguided.  That’s not the reality however.  Farhadi slips us into their shoes and we appreciate each of their perspectives.  You can ask yourself the question on leaving the cinema – would you have done anything differently if presented with the same situation?

The overall theme reminded me of the excellent House Of Sand And Fog (released in 2003) starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connolly.  As a society, we love to simply things as good or evil, right or wrong, guilty or innocent.  Films like House Of Sand And Fog and A Separation remind us that life is rarely that clear-cut.  You can’t always rely on a textbook when faced when a tough ethical dilemma.

There’s a religious aspect to the film which is also deftly handled by Farhadi.  Again, it would be easy to pass dispersions on these characters based on their strong Islamic beliefs.  On leaving the cinema, you’re likely to be talking about the gripping story and powerful performances… as opposed to questioning their religious values.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a film that has received more praise over the past 12 months.  A Separation has won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the top prize at the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, best picture at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and best foreign language film at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.  Oh, and it has a 99% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been ranked inside the top 100 films of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

Given the high praise, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said already.  A Separation is a wonderful movie.