An exceptional piece of filmmaking, storytelling and acting. The Iranian film, A Separation (Persian, in English subtitles), comes on like a small marginal story that’s decent enough to be a movie-going chore, but after twenty minutes, it takes on a breadth of power that grips you beyond the ending. We think at first that it’s a portrait of a man and wife separating, and because it’s an Iranian film, the typical domestic dilemma in this case has a certain charge of exoticism. Simin (Leila Hatami), the wife, wants to emigrate to Europe to provide better opportunities for her daughter. Nader (Peyman Moadi), the husband, needs to stay by his father who is ailing from Alzheimer’s disease. The wife impatiently hires a caretaker. A murder of an unborn child takes place. An upsetting chain of lies unravels.
The husband refuses to grant his wife a divorce. I sided with the wife for a few minutes, because I had my own presumptions that women in this culture are oppressed against a husband’s iron fist. But Nader is a hard-working father with great concern for his daughter, and devotion to his sick father (I kept thinking he’s like a Persian Dustin Hoffman of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” fussy and conscientious). Simin decides to leave the household – it’s a tantrum – and as consolation she hires a pregnant caretaker named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after the grandfather but Islamic religious beliefs keep her from completing the more delicate duties such as washing him.
After one day of work, the occupational chemistry is wrong but Razieh’s services continue despite reservations. The week continues, and a series of nursing mishaps take place. Nader returns home to find Razieh absent, his father tied up (as well as speechless), and in a fury, fires her on the spot. He refuses to pay her when he finds his money is also stolen. Razieh won’t budge from the front door until she is paid. It’s against customs for a strange man to put a hand on an Islamic woman. He gets her through the doorway, then slams it. A few silent moments… then a thump.
Nader is charged with murder of Razieh’s unborn child after her miscarriage. The courts are different in Iran than they are here. It’s a small room with a judge and bailiff, and you take turns arguing back and forth. Nader’s whole life will be ruined, but he can counteract by suing Razieh for slander. The case comes down to whether Nader knew that Razieh was pregnant or not. Meanwhile, Hodjat, Razieh’s husband, will not lay down his out of court persecutions of Nader’s family until he gets his “blood money.”
This is an escalating puzzle that stacks on more linking pieces than it initially appears (a lá “Rashomon”). The slew of moral components makes “A Separation” fascinating and emotionally tear-jerking. We have a good man and an unfortunate woman who has lost her baby, but we have a silenced grandfather and a precocious teenage daughter whose livelihood is under threat – what ruin that can happen to her father can directly affect her chances growing up. Director Asghar Farhadi keeps the drama at a rolling pin rhythm, only holding onto a very long held shot at the closing curtain of his film. Cultured moviegoers need this film.
123 Minutes. Rated PG-13. Persian in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE / LIFE LESSONS
Film Cousins: “Rashomon” (Japan, 1950); “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979); “Children of Heaven” (Iran, 1997); “The Son” (France, 2002).