Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Merila Zare'i, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Kimia Hosseini, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Sahabanu Zolghadr, Mohammadhasan Asghari, Shirin Azimiyannezhad, Hamid Dadju, Mohammad Ebrahimian
Synopsis: A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material
Quite possibly the best foreign film of last year
Although "A Separation" may not be last year's biggest block buster, it's still one of the best in terms of story value. Not only is the film genuinely engaging, but it's arguably one of the most controversially perplex films that I've seen in a while. The movie takes place in modern day Iran, where a couple is in the midst of filing for a divorce. Although one can still sense that Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) care about each other, the reality is that they are faced with a difficult decision.
Simin wants to move to overseas, in hopes of providing their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), a better life. However, Nader wishes to stay in Iran because of his father, who suffers from Alzheimers. Needless to say, this puts Simin in a difficult position, as she doesn't want to leave Iran without their daughter at least, but Termeh is very close to her father, so she refuses to go with her; hence they are at an impasse. Granted, both Simin and Nader have very valid reasons to feel as they do. After all, it becomes a question of morality and principle here. On the one hand, you can't really blame Simin for wanting to move with her daughter overseas, with hopes of providing her a better life. Yet, you also can't blame Nader for wanting to stay behind to take care of his father, in his time of need. Indeed, both are right in their points of view, as decisions like these aren't always easy to make.
Anyway, Simin moves into her mother's apartment temporarily, in hopes of staying close to her daughter, as she will not move overseas without her. Meanwhile, Nader is forced to hire a caregiver to watch over his father while he's at work, and Termeh is at school. The caregiver he hires is named Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who supports her unemployed husband. Unfortunately, her husband is a strict religious man who would never allow her to work in a man's house, without his wife present; hence another moral dilemma. Unlike Simin and Nadar who live a moderate Muslim lifestyle, Razieh is so religious that she questions whether it would be right to change the underpants of an elderly sick man, or give him a bath, as it's obvious he can't do it himself anymore. Of course, this leads to a scene where she ends up calling a her local Mosque, to see if it would be deemed a sin or not to help Nader's father in these particular situations.
However, the real problem ensues one day when he comes home to find his father lying on the floor barely breathing, as he's tied to the bed. Where's Razieh you may ask? She isn't there of course.
Although she does have a good reason why she left, but he doesn't know that, and neither do we at first. But as the story moves on, we slowly find out there's more to this story than meets the eye. Needless to say, he fires her over this, and then accuses her of stealing from him as well. We later find out that she accuses him of pushing her down the stairs, and causing her inevitable miscarriage. Of course, this angers her husband, who wants to sue Nader for manslaughter, and demands he be thrown in jail. Fair enough. However, is her story as accurate as she claims it be allegedly? Or perhaps Nader really did cause her miscarriage?
I can't really delve into that, as it would involve me giving away too much of the film. But I will say this, it's definitely worth watching to find out the answers to these queries. To make a long story short though, the film ends up in the court room where a strict but fair judge listens to all the facts presented from all parties involved. Like Akira Kurasawa's "Rashomon", each person that testifies tells their own version of the truth, but none of the testimonies are really a hundred percent accurate as they claim. As the film plays out, lies are revealed, and secrets are discovered about each of the parties involved in this mess. Although each party doesn't present all the facts during this case, you can still sense a great deal of sympathy and reason behind their motives. Granted, I'm not saying that the ends justify the means, but with the way the story is presented, you can't really bring yourself to blame any of the characters in this movie. No if anything, all the characters in "A Separation" are deeply complex and layered individuals, who go through real struggles in a religiously dominated society.
Sure, you don't have to agree with Simin and Nader's moderate Muslim lifestyle, nor do you have to agree with Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) and Razieh's strict religious lifestyle, but "A Separation" does present a movie that allows the viewer to feel sympathy for all parties involved just the same. In fact, that's one of the best features about this film, as it doesn't try to paint a clear picture of right or wrong. No, it's only business is to create a film that presents each character in a fair light, to allow anyone to relate to the characters on an emotional level.
Asghar Farhadi does a wonderful job making a fairly balanced film that'll touch the heart of even those who have no idea about what the Iranian culture is like. Although the movie does suffer from pacing issues, as it tends to drag at times, but it's still a fairly well made movie. I especially loved the open ending, where it never exactly tells us what happened, but rather leaves it up to viewers to decide for themselves on what they think happened. Granted, open endings like this can be annoying at times, as most of today's Hollywood cliche films will often use the "open ending" concept to leave way for a marketable sequel. However, when an open ending is applied to enhance the drama of a film, while presenting an evenly balanced story, then it can turn out to be a very beautiful thing to watch; hence the case with "A Separation."
As for the actors, I thought everyone played their parts rather well. I especially loved the performances by Peyman Maadi and Leila Hatami, as they not only portrayed their characters with a strong sense of conviction, but you never really felt like they were acting at all. If anything, a part of you couldn't help but feel that what their characters were going through were real. In fact, you could still sense that their characters still loved and cared about each other immensely, even when they argued; which made the movie even more interesting to watch.
Although I doubt seriously this film will register well with most mainstream audiences, but if you're into various independent and foreign films, then I'd highly recommend it at a rating of three and a half out of four.