Review: A Separation
PLOT: An upper-middle class Iranian couple separate when the wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) decides that she doesnít want their daughter growing up in Iranís repressive environment. Her husband, Nader (Peyman Moaadi) - a reasonable enough guy, feels he canít leave due to his elderly father, whoís ravaged by Alzheimerís. In order to care for his father, Nader hires the lower-class; devoutly religious Razieh- whose hot tempered husband is deep in debt to his many creditors. Things go from bad to worse after an unfortunate accident involving the pregnant Razieh causes her to miscarry.
REVIEW: A SEPARATION is going to win the best foreign film Oscar on Sunday night. Thereís no doubt in my mind. Sitting at an incredible 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, A SEPARATION is the best reviewed film of the year, by a wide margin and itís not hard to see why. Frankly, Iím amazed that a movie like A SEPARATION was able to be produced in Iran, which more and more is imposing insane levels of censorship on what was once a very vibrant culture of film. This is the same government that sent Jafar Panahi to prison for making films that were considered critical of the regime. That director Asghar Farhadiís been able to get away with such an even-handed, three-dimensional portrayal of the divorce process in Iran is a miracle.
It really is an even-handed, balanced film- which is obvious right from the first scene. Both Simin and Nader are essentially good people, with Simin admitting that heís a good father, and a kind husband. Still, Simin understandably doesnít want their daughter growing up in a country where sheís a second class citizen. Upon telling this to the court, the outraged magistrate- who thinks Simin and her daughter should stay put, refuses the divorce, but Nader doesnít gloat. It seems, from the way he treats his daughter, encouraging her to think for herself even if it goes against what sheís being indoctrinated with in school, that heís a forward thinking guy- who really does love his wife. That said, heís no saint, as heís stubborn, and refuses to admit that heís needs help coping with the problems that are quickly piling up.
Things go from bad to worse once he hires the religious Razieh to look after his father. On her first day of work, she arrives to discover his father has wet his pants, and before changing him, she has to call her mosque for permission (which they are initially unwilling to give) to change his pants. A scene so critical of religion in an Iranian film is extremely brave for someone like Farhadi to include, and itís a fascinating glimpse into how religious politics utterly dictate the behavior of so many people. Even something as innocent as changing an old manís pants can be considered a sin.
Eventually, her religion, along with the actions of her hot tempered, heavily indebted husband, leads to a tragic confrontation, sparking even more drama in Simin and Naderís divorce. Again, Iím really impressed with how balanced A SEPERATION is and the performances by lead actors Leila Hatami, and Peyman Moaadi are amazing. Hatamiís Simin really is a modern woman and no shrinking violet with her not being afraid to defend herself when push comes to shove. Meanwhile Moaadi, who could have been portrayed as either too much of a boor, or too much of a victim- strikes exactly the right balance. In the end, heís a regular guy- and flawed like all of us.
Suffice to say, A SEPARATION is really an eye-opening experience, and a fascinating glimpse into a culture thatís totally alien to my eyes. However, itís also a deeply humane film, and while there are many things about the way society functions in Iran that I find deeply disturbing, this goes to show you that there are reasonable people everywhere- who just get caught up in lifeís little pitfalls, regardless of whatever border they have to live behind.