A Separation

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

A Separation
"The moral complexities in this film stay with you."

"My finding is that your problem is a small problem," says the judge to the wife at the beginning of A Separation, about the life-altering decision of emigration. And indeed, even bigger problems are on the horizon. The judge does not grant the separation, as the consent has to be mutual. It is all a matter of perspective in this exemplary detective story about relationships and so much more.

Asghar Farhadi, masterfully exposes his characters' states of mind through their actions.

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Passports are scanned. A married couple stands in front of a judge. Simin (Leila Hatami) had obtained precious visas to leave Iran with her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) for the US. Nader does not want to leave the country because of his elderly father. When Simin observes that he has Alzheimer's and doesn't even recognise his own son, he counters: "I know he is my father".

Simin leaves her husband, daughter and the afflicted grandfather anyway, and moves to her mother's house. While Simin is still packing her suitcase, the family discusses the washing machine as if she were already gone. "On four," the daughter suggests, "She must have used it the most." The detective work has a wide spectrum.

Managing every day life without the mother is overwhelming them, so Nader hires help. Razieh (Sareh Bayat), an extremely religious woman, whose husband doesn't know about the job, brings her own little daughter with her to help her work as a maid in the apartment. The fact that she is pregnant again, and that her husband is unemployed makes her accept the position, although it causes great religious conflict. Her little girl is the one who discovers that the disoriented old grandfather, who likes to pull off his oxygen supply and sneak out of the house in his pajamas and barefoot, has had an "accident" that needs to be taken care of. Razieh's faith is being tested "If I clean him, will it count as a sin?", she asks someone on the phone. The little girl promises her mother: "I won't tell Dad."

While chaos about whether to wash or not to wash the old man reigns at home, Nader gives his daughter Termeh a life lesson at the gas station. After she filled the tank, Termeh gives a coin to the station attendant. "Get the tip!" her father admonishes her, it is only for when he puts in the gas. She gets out of the car again, we see her argue with the man, she brings back the money, the proud father tells her to keep it, she beams.

Their entire past shines through in this scene, the love of a father and daughter in a nutshell at a gas station in their car. Much larger questions of gender inequality in the past and the future pulse underneath the surface. The social discrepancies are further explored. While Termeh misses her mother, has a tutor and studies Persian vocabulary, the maid's little girl plays with grandpa's oxygen mask and drags the heavy garbage bag down the stairs.

As a structuring principle, all of the characters want to keep something hidden from each other, and like clockwork, one by one, all the secrets are exposed, not only to us but to the people in the story they want to hide it from the most. "You cannot really call it lying," Farhadi said to me after the press conference, "Hiding the facts, perhaps. We understand why they are lying, we understand that they are suffering, they are not happy and judgement becomes very difficult."

The conflicts I mentioned above, are only the tip of an iceberg of events, that make A Separation such a stand-out film. A charge for murder, the loss of a child, a justice system at a crossroads - Farhadi involves the audience in cover-ups so big and so understandable at the same time. The immense pressure put on beloved children is rarely seen on film. Eleven-year-old Termeh is the future. "Your whole life you ran away," she says to a parent, and wants to "learn not to be a coward like you ". The decision is hers at the end. The moral complexities in this film stay with you.

A Separation has been selected as Iran’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the next Academy Awards and deserves to be nominated for Oscar consideration.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2011
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An Iranian couple's trial separation is complicated by their interactions with another troubled family.
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Read more A Separation reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Writer: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi

Year: 2011

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Iran


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