Title: A Separation
Directed By: Asghar Farhadi
Written By: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Kimia Hosseini, Merila Zarei
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 9/27/11
Opens: December 30, 2011
This Iranian film may be as talky as anything by the French, but instead of dealing like them with romantic love and lust and the jealousies created thereby, writer-director Asghar Farhadi goes deeply into the broad questions of loyalty, justice, social class, religion, and nuances of behavior that make us root first for one citizen, then for the other, finally leaving us to make our own decisions as to ethical questions involved. Ideas are one thing: Farhadi frames his people in inventive ways such as keeping some behind closed doors, allowing them to hear meaningful conversations rather than visualizing them. Ultimately we’re dealing with flawed people who at bottom are all doing both the right things and the wrong things, concluding with A Big Question, one that we in the audience will ponder in our post-cinematic discussions.
Except for the piano music during the final show of credits, Farhadi goes against the Western grain by absenting songs, melodies and harmonies from the soundtrack, allowing us to hear these folks without the usual distraction that studios create to rev up suspense or comedy.
With a plot that thickens in leaps and bounds, “A Separation” finds Nader (Peyman Moadi), a middle-class, secular bank employee, refusing to join his wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) in her plan to leave Iran and go abroad for reasons not spelled out but presumably to carve a better life for her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). (My guess is that she’s bound for Berlin, since the director has spent considerable time there.) Nader refuses to go as he wants to continue caring for his elderly, Alzheimer-afflicted father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), setting the stage for a battle of wills that continues throughout the story. To care for his dad, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a poor, religious woman who takes the long commute with her four-year-old daughter (Kimia Hosseini). To avoid humiliating her tempestuous, unemployed, debt-ridden husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), she keeps her new job a secret from him.
In a climactic scene that drives the remainder of the film, elevating the drama with loud arguments and some fist-fighting, Razieh, whose pregnancy is not revealed to her employer, has left her post on a mission unraveled later, tying the old man’s hand to the bed. The confrontation between employer and worker boils over into a court battle, one in which the legal question centers on whether Nader had known about the young woman’s pregnancy when he hired her and when he forcefully dismissed her for leaving her post.
The ensemble work quite well together, involving the audience and letting us in on some of the workings of Iranian society. We learn that women are not always the humble, obedient, passive members that we have come to think they are, given the requirement that they are compelled to wear the chador in public. (Presumably even the secular Simin wears the headgear when only her husband is present because a film crew is working in the apartment as well.) Though the debt-ridden Hodjat displays a violent temper, speaking up for oneself is not a freedom that only men enjoy: Razieh, the eleven-year old Temeh, and Termeh mother, Simin, make their points forcibly enough. The justice system in Iran comes across as faster and more informal than that practiced here in the states, the judge dressed casually in an open-collar sports shirt, treating both sides with absolute fairness.
Farhadi evokes a particularly fine performance from his real-life daughter, Sarina Farhadi, as the pre-adolescent Sarina Fahadi. She appears more mature than kids that age in our part of the world, wearing severe eyeglasses under her chador, studying hard and helped not only by her tutor (Merila Zarei) but by her dad, who quizzes her on her English language competence and math.
The film won the audience award at the Fajr Film Festival in Tehran (held annually in February since 1982), taking also the Best Film award at the 2011 Berlin Festival and placements at the New York and Telluride festivals. The language is Farsi, or Persian if you prefer, with clear English subtitles.
Rated PG-13. 123 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+