Review: A Separation (2011)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

****

Regardless of how couples may try to keep it clean, the process of separation and/or divorce is necessarily messy. Clashing interests and tempers mean that those in close proximity to the couple may get hurt. However, matters may be further complicated by outside factors; in the case of A Separation, a couple are attempting separation and divorce in Iran, against the backdrop of law strictly dictated by religion and recent protests against the ruling regime. Juggling multiple heavy themes, A Separation proves its mettle with clarity, passion and great depth.

From the start, we’re thrown into the maelstrom as we watch Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) plead their cases before an arbiter. She wants to move abroad with their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) to a better life, but he wants to wait in Iran to nurse his ailing father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. As Simin moves to her mother’s, Nader must hire a pregnant carer named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) whilst Termeh looks on, conflicted. Other films would (and have) sanitized such events, but A Separation knows that such events and the people involved are far more complex than what’s on the surface. The drama takes more twists when Razieh falls after being fired by Nader for negligence, causing her to miscarry, leading to arguments and hearings to establish blame. As Termeh points out to Nader, none of this would have happened had he and Simin not separated. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi knows his characters, never allowing them to be reduced to cyphers. The negligent actions of Razieh are as confused and complex as the separation process. In the leads, Maadi and Hatami are by turns angry, upset and all-out weak, but always understandable and never untruthful. Bayat has the trickiest task, as her overburdened working mother tries to assert herself against considerable odds.

Farhadi’s dense script crafts a credible real-life look at marriage on the rocks, whilst his clear direction enables him both illustrate the frustrations and complexities of life in modern Iran whilst still cataloguing the pain of separation in a relevant and identifiable way. When simple tasks in the home may require the permission of a cleric, there’s little room for manoeuvre. Indeed, Simin’s intelligence and beauty make her an unlikely spouse to Nader’s slightly more traditional views. A Separation may not be an altogether happy watch, but why should the central couple be the only ones to consider whether they should be together or not? Your emotional investment is guaranteed, as is the abundant return on that investment. A decision in the final moments is taken by a key character and by the audience. This couple may be in the middle of Tehran, but they could as well be anywhere in the world.

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