'A Separation' (UK Release: 6 Dec '11) // Words: Raman K
Exactly a week has passed since I watched the Golden Globe winning 'A Separation' and I cannot shake it from my thoughts. Tense from the immediate opening divorce court scene, shot from the judge’s perspective, the film masterfully rakes you into its tragedy. Its screenplay compels you to respond throughout as parent, lover, child, citizen and law enforcer. The signature of director Asghar Farhadi’s creation is that every character’s position is both justifiable and yet may equally be objectionable by our gut-feeling of what is inherently correct.
Set in modern day Iran, a wife, Simin (Leila Hatami), files for divorce from her husband, Nader (Peyman Maadi), citing principally the safety of her 11 year old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), remaining in the “circumstances” of Iran. Pining to move abroad, Simin requests custody of Termeh. Nader refuses to give up his child or leave his Alzheimer-suffering father, particularly as the condition worsens.
After Simin moves out to stay with her mother, a housekeeper called Razieh (Sareh Bayat) takes a job at the residence with her young daughter, Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini), but quickly finds herself overburdened in caring for Nader’s father. Razieh, forced by her husband, Hodjat’s (Shahab Hosseini) long term unemployment, debt and depression, perseveres only to find herself at the centre of a tragic turn of events.
Western audiences will immediately project oppressive stereotypes of Iranian culture onto Simin’s desire to protect Termeh from political unrest in Iran, but Farhadi subtly skirts this question, focusing instead on the events that it sparks. Termeh emerges as the soul of this film, confronting a series of tribulations and battles in parallel to her father’s, but markedly with the strained maturity of someone far beyond her years. She becomes the director’s punctuation for the most painful injustices. An example is the protracted court battle that exposes the failure of small courts in sensitively accommodating children in the face of often traumatic adult disputes.
'A Separation' bravely and carefully treads the edges of contemporary social issues in Iran’s capital. Since the government crackdown of one of the world’s most flourishing filmmaking communities and the high profile arrest of leading director, Jafar Panahi ('The White Balloon', 'Mirror'), 'A Separation' evenly drives family emotions and dynamics into harsh political questions at stake in Iran: middle class comfort and the vulnerability of the impoverished, Islamic piety and flexible justice, selfishness and love, Tehran and modernisation. Beautifully crafted and never unnaturally orchestrating your empathy, Farhadi has given a welcome gift to world cinema in handling our sympathies without accusation or bias.
Where Marjane Satrapi should have secured an Oscar for 'Persepolis', the delightful animated coming-of-age story, 'A Separation' is a brilliant piece of drama that should be celebrated. Truly accomplished acting, plot twists and emotional gymnastics left nearly the entire theatre audience seated until the last name of the credits had passed, lumps in throats and sobs quickly wiped away as the lights were raised.
'A Separation' is on limited release in US cinemas now. It is available to purchase on DVD/Blu-Ray from Amazon.co.uk.