Written & Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami, and Sareh Bayat
MPAA: PG-13 – For Mature Thematic Material]
Even the most religious of all people sin. It’s known fact because, well, everyone sins. Everyone usually tries their best to do good so that good will find them, but it’s never that simple, isn’t it? Even priests are frequently caught with underage sex offenses. How is it possible that even the most pious people could commit an atrocity? Because, as Roger Ebert put it in his excellent review of today’s movie, “No list of rules can account for human feelings.”
Taking this quote into consideration, I imagine that this must make the citizens of countries like Iran live especially troubled lives. They live in a country that is still heavily dependent on religious tradition, to the point that adulterers are still stoned there. It’s literally something out of the Old Testament. And even then, it gets to the point that all of the restrictions can end up leading to even more moral complications.
A Separation chronicles the ultimate dilemma. Set in modern Iran, an upper-middle class married couple wishes to file for divorce. Not because they don’t still live each other, or because one has had an affair. Simin (Leila Hatami) wishes to move abroad and give her daughter Termeh (Serina Farhadi) a better life without the restrictions of Iranian law. However, her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi) wishes to stay so he can take care of his elderly father who’s been afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Termeh wishes to stay with her father, who she was always more fond of. Simin then decides to take Termeh with her, even if Nader doesn’t want to, so she files for divorce. The judge, however, doesn’t think that her case is “grave enough” for a divorce, so she remains stuck in the country. She moves out of the house to live with her parents, while Nader decides to hire a “nanny” of sorts to take care of his father while he’s away at work every day.
That’s the set-up that sets everything into motion, but trust me, you do not wish to know what happens in the rest of the movie. I went into it rather clean, unknowing of the various plot threads that would eventually unfold. And believe me, it’s best to come into this film unaware of anything about to happen. The dilemma ends up becoming even more painful, to the point that you’re wrestling with where the line between victim and villain is supposed to come in. I was unprepared for the questions A Separation asked me, and because of that, it ended up being one of the most intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking films I’ve seen in a long while.
The thing that makes A Separation‘s screenplay so rich is how empathetic it is of every single character on both sides of the argument. They’re all seen as victims of a broken system that has led them down a path of lies, corruption, and even death. The things that these people have to go through and the revelations about their decisions that are revealed are all unbelievable and even heart breaking.
It is this that makes A Separation much, much, much higher than your average “social issues” movie. “Social issues movie” you ask? It’s those movies that get a lot of kudos from critics and awards shows for being about big political themes but aren’t really that good as actual movies (This year’s choice was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which got its undeserved Best Picture nomination by default because it was the “let’s all cry about 9/11” movie).
What makes A Separation different isn’t that it’s burying our heads into the message of the film, and it isn’t all about, “Hey, look at how ridiculous our legal system is!” Instead, the film wisely makes it about consequences. Our characters are ants who live under a magnifying glass, and now that the sun is up, we have to watch them suffer. This gets the audience to truly engage with the struggles of the film’s characters, and truly think about the implications of bad law-making.
It’s one of those rare films that is truly morally complex. There is no real hero or villain, no easy answers on who is right or wrong. What we are left with is a dilemma that might possibly never be solved. As per usual with films like this, the ending is deservedly ambiguous. I heard people in my screening say that they wanted an answer to the big question at the end before the credits came in. Don’t we all want the answer.
Final Verdict: It’s hard for me to articulate further into what makes A Separation worth your time without getting into spoilers. So trust me when I say that this film deserves every accolade it’s been getting. Smartly written, genuinely thought-provoking, morally ambiguous, never resorting to preachy message-mongering; A Separation is a rich film that will leave your intellect stimulated and your emotions satisfied.
That is all. See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call the Iranian sin-hotline to know if posting movie reviews is a sin. Bye!
[Trailer Omitted Due To Spoiling The Movie]