A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film, directed by Asghar Farhadi, about the repercussions of a middle-class couple’s separation on their family. It was the first Iranian film to win the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and it truly is deserving of that honor.

Nader and Simin separate after Nader refuses to leave the country with his family because it would mean leaving behind his father, who is ill with Alzheimer’s disease. This puts an initial strain on the family as Termeh, their daughter, chooses to stay with her father. Based on Simin’s recommendation, Nader hires Razieh, a religious woman from the poor suburbs, to take care of his ill father. Razieh struggles with the religious implications of being a married woman and taking care of a man. She also finds the work difficult and tiring because she is pregnant. A series of events leads to Nader finding his father tied to the bed and unconscious and to Razieh having a miscarriage. This begins a long and trying legal showdown between the two families.

Hollywood churns out a lot of movies, many of which don’t really have the same attention to artistic and directorial detail that foreign films, such as A Separation, have. I always find it refreshing to watch foreign films exactly for that reason. Farhadi’s film highlights life in Iran by following the conflict between two different families, one more secular and affluent (middle class) and the other more religiously devout and impoverished. The interaction between these two families touches upon class, gender, and religious struggles (presumably) common to day-to-day life in Iran.

Furthermore, the movie highlights the effects of a parents’ separation on their child, a situation that is more universal and applicable across national and cultural borders. Termeh is stuck in a painful situation, having to perpetually choose between her two parents. Ultimately her parents’ actions put her in many uncomfortable situations, including suffering embarrassment and marginalization school and lying before a judge to protect her father.

The acting was compelling and the cinematography added another layer of symbolism to the movie. When at last we see Hodjat and Razieh’s home, it is starkly different from Nader’s home. The paint on the walls is peeling and the home itself is more austere, reflecting not only their socioeconomic status but also hinting at their religious piety. This setting served to add an additional layer to the conflict between the two families.

Multiple scenes in the film relied heavily upon the use of framing, particular using edges from doors, walls, or windows. The use of framing accentuated the distance and separation between the characters, whether between the two families or within the main family. The most notable framing was the ending scene, where the titular separation was emphasized by the glass panel separating the two parents (Simin and Nader), while they awaited Termeh’s decision.

The pain of all the individuals in this movie is palpable. As a viewer, it is like watching a train wreck unfold but being incapable of being anything but a bystander. When the movie ends, the only thing that remains is silence. I would recommend with a score of 8/10. I look forward to watching Farhadi’s newest movie, The Salesman, sometime soon.

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