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Separation, AIran 2011
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Running time 123 minutes
Synopsis: Iranian couple Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are at a cross road; she wishes to proceed with plans to move abroad with their 11 year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), while Nader refuses to move forward, citing the needs of his housebound father. Simin moves to her parents’ house, leaving Termeh with Nader, and files for a divorce. All she asks is that she be given permission to take Termeh abroad with her, which he refuses. Nader employs an inexperienced and religious woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after the old man during the day, with all sorts of unforeseeable consequences.
A Separation has won a swag of awards, including Best Foreign Film at the recent Academy Awards, and understandably so, as it appeals directly to film-goers waningt to engross themselves in intelligent film-making with examination of many issues which go to the heart of the question: “What is it that makes humans human?”
Filmed in Tehran, we get a sense of a place that is vital, choked with people and the trappings of modern life - Europeans cars and modern gadgets abound. However, this is a Muslim country and there are physical restrictions on females. Even the most educated women wear headscarves and many seek direction from religious leaders about appropriate behaviour in everyday life. A Separation also presents a fascinating insight into the Muslim legal system, including divorce and other civil proceedings, which may include the ruling of blood money being payable, and which are presided over by an interrogator, in this case, a harassed man in a small chaotic office.
A Separation is ostensibly about a married couple faced with a difficult decision – to improve the life of their only child by moving to another country, or to stay in Iran and look after an aged parent. However, the separation of husband and wife when Simin moves to her mother’s is the true separation that is explored. The couple does not appear to be making any decision as Nader is simply refusing to make one.
There are in fact several ‘separations’ within the whole story. As well as the obvious, initial one of husband and wife, there is the potential separation of father and adult son, adult children and in-laws, father and daughter, self from old country and therefore from old culture, and perhaps the most subtle of all, the separation of women from their traditional roles.
It is this last separation which is the most interesting, and unfortunately the least-resolved of Asghar Farhadi’s film . The traditional role of a woman is exemplified by Simin who, while trying to improve her family’s life, is ultimately dutiful and obedient to the wishes of her husband. It is with her daughter Termeh that the resolution of the role of women is most complex and least certain. She attends an all-female school, while at home her father schools her relentlessly and overrides the (female) teacher’s instruction. The irony is that when Termeh is forced to make a life-changing decision, she finds herself unable to do so.
The acting by the entire cast is superb although I was especially struck by the performance of Bayat, who plays a woman of limited education yet one who displays dignity in difficult circumstances whilst thematically the film provides an insightful examination of a family in conflict, both within itself and with those around them.