A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, is a wonderful Persian film about a middle aged couple struggling to keep it together as they navigate some everyday life travails in modern day Iran. It deservedly won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at both last year’s (2012) Academy Awards and Golden Globes, among a long list of many other awards. It is a really well done simple film that explores life from the perspective of a secular man Nader (played by Peyman Moaadi ) who is trying to care for his aged father with Alzeheimer’s disease while negotiating a deteriorating relationship with his secular wife Simin (desperate to leave Iran), raising a young teenage daughter and dealing with a disturbing legal matter that arises with his father’s caretaker.
I don’t know very much at all about the country Iran. Beyond what we in the U.S. hear on the evening news, Iran may as well be Mars to me. So as a former student of anthropology, from the very first scene I found it absolutely fascinating to catch a realistic glimpse into what ordinary people may experience as citizens there. Additionally, the main characters are highly relatable to a “westerner” because you get the sense that they are secular, well educated, and living a pretty typical middle class life. The movie begins with the wife Simin (played by Leila Hatami) in front of a judge with Nader demanding a divorce – not because he hits her or deprives her of money or any “typical” reason. The reason Simin gives is that she managed to obtain a travel visa for their family (presumably to go to the West) and Nader is refusing to leave. His stated reason for refusal is that he will not abandon his elderly father with Alzheimer’s disease.
The couple has a young daughter, Termeh (played by Sarina Farhadi who is Asghar Farhadi’s real life daughter) and her devotion to Nader, who seems like a good man, is apparent. The family was living all together in a decent flat with the ailing granddad until the separation. Simin, who at first seemed to be packing to leave the country, leaves their home and goes to stay at her parents’ place close by. Termeh remains with her dad.
Meanwhile, without Simin at home, Nader needs to find a caretaker for his dad during the day. Through word of mouth a young religious woman, Razieh, played by Sareh Bayat, interviews for the job and begins right away. She comes to work with her very young daughter and it becomes apparent that she is pregnant with a second child. Because of her very modest clothing, consisting of a veil and long billowy dress, no one would have known that she was pregnant by her appearance. She is well meaning and seems to question her own every movement with respect to whether it would be considered religiously acceptable or “a sin”. Eventually, we meet her equally religious husband Hojjat played by Shahab Hosseini, who for most of the film is not aware that she took the caretaker job.
The differences between the lifestyles of the two families make for a very stark contrast. Then, a series of events involving Razieh, the grandfather (played by Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) and Nader occurs which lands Nader in legal hot water. Without spoiling anymore of the plot, the remainder of the film involves how Nader navigates through the trouble, as well as the impact the events have on all of the other family dynamics. Although there is ultimately a resolution, there is a sadness that hangs over both families that never gets lifted.
It’s hard to take my “Western” eyes out of my perspective on the whole thing, so my opinions and interpretations are tainted in that sense. And I know that all family dynamics are complicated, no matter where you live. But it feels as if the setting puts a constant grey storm cloud on the whole film. There are constraints that the culture seems to impose on Nader that may not have been there in a Western place that make attaining justice for all parties seem more difficult. (I am purposely being cryptic here to not give too much away, so forgive me for that.)
I know that the film will NOT appeal to everyone. I thought it was excellent, but it was my favorite type of film, so that is not a big surprise. But it is very eye opening and intelligent and gave me some real life perspective on what an Iranian existence must be like. It is also sad on many levels, not the least of which is the love story between Nader and Simin. The film left me wanting more but I suspect that was Farhadi ‘s intention and definitely a good thing…
If you’ve seen it I would love to hear other people’s take on it.