This internationally acclaimed film is nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Asghar Farhadi, writer and Director). The simple premises is that a couple is separating. From there, layer upon layer of heartache, marital strife, and moral dilemmas raise this astute film to a level approaching a masterpiece. The writing is honest, intricate and extraordinarily satisfying. There may be better films (not too many, though) – but I can think of no film in recent memory that dug to the heart of the matter(s) with such balance, brilliance, and compassion.
A Separation opens with Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) arguing their case before a judge. Simin wants a separation, and custody, but under Islamic law, that’s not going to happen. Her husband refuses to leave with her – and the daughter must stay with the father. The daughter wants to anyway, believing that her mother would never leave without her and would eventually come home. Nader won’t leave his father who is deteriorating badly under the onslaught of dementia. Simin wants a better life for their daughter. As with most arguments in this well-crafted film, both sides have a point.
Simin doesn’t leave the country, but moves home with her parents instead. Nader has to work, so he hires a housekeeper/caretaker for his father while he’s at work. Razieh (Sareh Bayat), pregnant and in need of money (her husband cannot find work and the bills are mounting), gets more than she bargained for with the incontinent father. She has to call on her cleric to ask if it is a sin to wash the body of a man not her husband. She is truly afraid of damnation and sinning. When she sneaks out for a Doctors appointment in the middle of the day, she ties the slumbering father to the bed and locks him in. Nader returns earlier than expected one day and finds his father fallen on the floor and barely breathing. This angers Nader greatly. When Razieh returns he confronts her, but she refuses to leave without her pay – which Nader claims she has already stolen. Nader pushes her out the door and slams it shut. There is some sort of fall (we do not see this) and the next day they get word that Razieh is in the hospital, having mis-carried their unborn child. Did Nader know she was pregnant? This is an important question, because if he did know he is potentially liable for murder. Whether he did know is a source of constant wonder: by his daughter, by his wife, by Razieh and her husband, as well as the judge. There are reasons to believe he did know. There are reasons to believe that he did not.
The truth: the telling of it, the finding out about it, the fervid belief that it really does matter are part and parcel of this one of many dilemmas that the viewer has to decide on. And that’s to the screenwriter’s credit that he allows the audience to work these things out for themselves. It’s a challenging film – not in the sense that it hard to follow – it is not – but in the sense that the filmmaker demands that you think, and think carefully, about these things.
One of the triumphs of the film is that it allows that Iran and America are not so different on an individual level. Sure, these are vast cultural differences. But those differences impinge in the same ways on all of us universally. The religious divide is eerily similar. The haves and the have nots follow the same suspicious paths.
Sarina Farhadi (Termeh, the troubled couple’s daughter) is the real life daughter of the director. The four actors who portray the two couples are all exceptional. This is a film for pondering, weighing out, accessing. And there are no easy answers here, as there are none in life. The climax is a bit of fitting cinema. Well done Mr. Farhadi.