- Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi star in the Academy Award-winning Iranian drama. Submitted photo.
A Separation (showtimes) is a story about lying. The Iranian drama, which won Best Foreign Language Film at Sunday's Academy Award ceremonies, addresses many other aspects of contemporary life, from dealing with the inflexibility of the law (depending on who is interpreting it) to the role of religion in the lives of various individuals. But the lying provides the major thrust for the second half of the movie.
Writer-director Asghar Farhadi has created a story that is remarkably relatable. The cultural details are different in Tehran than Indianapolis, but the characters feel universal and genuine. Farhadi attempts to keep a neutral stance on the characters--you have to decide for yourself who is doing right or wrong and what you might do in a similar situation.
It begins with a squabble in court. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country with her teenage daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the filmmaker's daughter) to seek a better life. Her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) wants to stay home and care for his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and he wants his daughter to stay with him.
Nader won't agree to a divorce or give consent for his daughter to leave and the court rules against Simin, because neither action is allowable without the consent of both parties. So Simin goes to stay with her parents while Nader seeks someone to care for his father while he is at work. He ends up hiring a woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who arrives with her young daughter in tow.
Something goes wrong and Nader ends up in court again, with Razieh and her irate, loudmouth husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini). Simin soon gets pulled into the conflict as well.
What the characters have on their hands is a mess and a mystery. Oft-times films that present a messy situation also produce a messy viewing experience, but A Separation is easy to follow if you're attentive. Moreover, it's a satisfying experience due to the credibility of the characters and the fine performances of the actors that play them.
We don't learn a lot about the estranged couple, because by the time we meet them the battle lines have already been drawn. Simin is determined and certain in her decisions, though the place where she has landed is far from her original destination. Nader is angry--she left!--but opts to focus on keeping proceedings in the house as routine as possible. Easier said than done. Daughter Termeh is quiet and studious. We learn more about who she is later.
New caregiver Razieh is fascinating. She appears timid and uncertain initially, but we soon learn that she is extremely willful, forging ahead no matter what, while trying to avoid breaking the rules of her faith. Some writers have complained that her husband Hodjat has been painted as the villain of the piece, but I disagree. He's the loudest, certainly, and one of the most annoying, but that's in his nature--the dude is a hothead and a drama queen.
I heard a story on public radio yesterday about the film. An expert on Iranian culture was asked how it got past the censors of the country. He replied that if the censors didn't recognize what government figures were represented by the characters, they couldn't object to the movie. Then he chuckled and said that was clearly the case with this production. I don't know anything about that, but I can tell you that A Separation is a compelling film that reminds us that people are people no matter what the setting and that, regardless of our good intentions, we are very good at screwing things up.