A Separation film 390.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s very difficult to watch Asghar Farhadi’s internationally acclaimed film A
Separation without thinking about the country in which it takes place, Iran.
Unlike many Iranian films in the past, it doesn’t present a sanitized version of
the country, in which cute kids fight poverty and adversity. A Separation is a
complex story that deals with universal problems such as marital conflict,
caring for the elderly and class struggles. It has received a huge number of
awards, including this year’s Golden Globe award and five awards at the Berlin
Film Festival, including the top honor. Now it is one of the five films
nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, along with Joseph Cedar’s Footnote. It
has also received a second Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay, a
rare distinction for a Foreign Language nominee.
While all that is
interesting, is it worth seeing? It’s an odd film in that it is both slow paced
but has a great deal of plot. While there is suspense as the twisty plot
unfolds, I found it strangely uninvolving.
There wasn’t any character I
felt truly interested or invested in. I couldn’t help wondering if it has won
some of the acclaim due partly to curiosity about Iran and a desire to reward a
filmmaker who portrays the human side of the country, behind the
The film is set in Tehran, and I was struck throughout, as I
always am during Iranian films, by how similar that city looks to
It shouldn’t be surprising, since much of both cities were
developed in the 1960s and ’70s, but it is disconcerting.
It starts out
with a woman applying to divorce her husband.
Simin (Laila Hatami) wants
the divorce from her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi) because she wants to leave the
country with their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter).
When she tells the judge she has no other problems with her husband other than
his refusal to go abroad, the judge says that they should remain separated and
try to work things out. This doesn’t seem as if it will be simple.
to consider moving because he is responsible for the care of his senile father,
who lives with them. Simin packs a suitcase and storms out to her mother’s
apartment. Nader hurriedly hires a woman to care for his father. Razieh (Sareh
Bayat) isn’t sure she really can do the job. A very poor woman, she seems to
have no experience at all in caring for the sick and elderly, and she complains
that it’s a long trip for her. She has to bring her young daughter with her each
day. But Nader is desperate and pressures her, and it is this part of his
dilemma that makes him the most sympathetic. But when he returns to find his
father alone, tied to his bed and without the oxygen he needs, Nader is
understandably upset. Finding some money missing, he angrily fires Razieh and
when, pleading, she tries to get back into the apartment, he gives her a shove.
This sends her flying down a flight of stairs and, as it turns out, to emergency
surgery in a hospital after she miscarries. Did Nader know she was pregnant? He
says he had no idea, but is he telling the truth? Her hot-headed and possibly
mentally ill husband presses charges against Nader, and he faces years in jail
if convicted of causing the death of the child she carried.
basic story, and although at times I was gripped by it, by and large it was a
dull film, in spite of strong performances by the entire cast. I found myself
wondering if it was meant to be some kind of metaphor for contemporary Iran. A
woman, seeking freedom abroad, may represent Iranians who flee to the West
rather than staying to make the changes they want at home. Is the elderly father
who has become demented a symbol of a government that holds people back? The
pregnant, religiously observant caretaker may be the Iranian people, torn
between irrational impulses (her husband in the film, religious fundamentalists
in real life) and lack of any other viable options. It’s impossible to know if
this is what Farhadi intends, but it’s difficult not to think about all these
questions. In the end, if I had been more captivated by the film, I would have
thought about its metaphorical implications less.