Director Asghar Farhadi puts forth the critically acclaimed film A Separation with an intense, incredibly realistic story, enhanced by surprisingly realistic performances. Problem is, its laborious to watch. Between the trudging pace and low production qualities, the film feels like a home movie, which works for and against it.
A married couple, Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), disagree on whether to leave Iran to raise their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), abroad or to remain in Iran to continue caring for Nader’s father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. After Simin leaves, Nader hires a maid, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout follower of the Quaran, to care for his father - problem is, the employer-employee relationship becomes complicated and soon Nader finds himself in a situation capable of destroying him and his family.
Positively, A Separation excels with its actors as each of them add a sense of realism to their roles. This movie feels real through its themes of universality. How many people have ever been forced to choose between an ailing relative or chasing their life beyond the borders of confinement, danger and restriction? How many children have been forced to make choices regarding which parent to live with during divorce or separation? Or how many people have experienced unfortunate realities and then cling to lies which they use to avoid those realities? Are you one of those people? Though it’s not certain if these actors have been or are people in these situations, their performances are incredibly authentic and would suggest they may have been or could be. They’re performances that evoke empathetic responses while also begging questions of “what would you do in this situation?” Maadi and Hatami have excellent on-screen chemistry (albeit foreign to U.S. viewers) that could exist beyond the situation of the film.
Despite the excellence in on-screen chemistry, this is not a story that would be easily understood by non-Persian speaking audiences, meaning that the subtitles, which are challenging to see at times, are necessary for the story to evolve and resolve. Unfortunately, it’s obvious at times that there’s much more dialogue being spoken than what’s being translated, which is in conflict with the pacing of the film in its entirety, which lingers too long on some moments and not long enough on potentially more significant events.
A Separation is strong in the sense that it exposes and dispels some current misconceptions about Iranian/Persian culture and that it offers an interesting look at the differences between classes. For example, Nader is what American’s would define as mid-to-upper class and educated with a solid job. The maid’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) thus concludes, at one point, that Nader is Godless and uses many other clichés about the upper class. Conversely, Hodjat also offers commentary on the lower-Iranian class, evident through their devout religious beliefs, suggestively low education levels, his belief that his wife needs his permission (to work) and a moment when he accuses Nader of thinking his child is just a disposable “animal.” There is perhaps too much social commentary for those unfamiliar with Islamic and Persian customs and traditions but the film also dispels a current misconception that all of those men beat or control their wives. There is a sense of freedom and the ability to choose afforded here in A Separation. But for every accuracy there are inaccuracies (which seem dictated by the censorship laws of the Iranian government), the most evident of which is the use of the scarf. Traditionally, women only wear their scarves outside their homes, but here they are worn always, under the justification that the women will be seen by the public and thus, must cover their hair.
A Separation is not for everyone but there is a certain market of filmgoer that will and should see it. Some of those who do see the film will find it more relevant and pleasing than others and that’s all due to the actions or lack thereof, as directed by the restrictions of the Iranian government. Despite the efforts of director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation, doesn’t have the same production qualities many viewers are used to, not to say it’s entirely poor quality, but it’ll be more aesthetically pleasing to see where the production qualities of Iranian films are ten years from now, which is to be expected in the evolving film industry in Iran.
A Separation runs 123 minutes and is rated PG-13.