I got to watch ‘A Separation’ two years back at the Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFES). What a great movie it turned out to be! A spectacular panorama of modern Iran with all its complexities and contradictions and an unique insight into Iranian society that, at the time, was invisible because of media censorship.
This was made two years after the elections of 2009 in Iran, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, and Sarina Farhadi. This movie focused on the Iranian middle-class couple who separate, and the conflicts that arise when the husband hires a lower-class care giver for his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
As we know that the Iranian Films are undergoing a great level of transition and the Modern Iranian cinema tends to reflect the climate that’s opposed to its existence. For last 4-5 years there films are following a great length of trends and recognition all over- Two Cannes Film Festival premieres, Mohammad Rasoulof’s “Good Bye” and Jafar Panahi’s “This is Not a Film” focused on open-minded Iranians complaining about their oppressive society and seeking an escape. Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” inhabits the same concerns, but its drama — which unfolds with brilliant naturalism — culls from universal frustrations.
In a country where lawyers are jailed for defending their clients (such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has got 11 years), photographers are arrested for taking photographs (such as Maryam Majd, still missing) and film-makers are sentenced to lengthy terms for making films (such as Jafar Panahi), Asghar Farhadi has proved able to make good films – and even obtain the government approval as well as international admiration after winning the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin film festival for A Separation.
As for its accolades- A Separation won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, becoming the first Iranian film to win the award. It received the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Silver Bears for Best Actress and Best Actor at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival, becoming the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, making it the first non-English film in five years to achieve this.
‘A Separation’ follows the story of Nader and Simin, who are married for 14 years and live with their 11-year-old daughter Termeh in Tehran. The family belongs to the urban middle-class and the couple is on the verge of separation. Simin wants to leave the country with her husband and daughter, as she does not want Termeh to grow up under the prevailing conditions. This desire is not shared by Nader. He is concerned for his elderly father, who lives with the family and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. When Nader decides to stay in Iran, Simin files for divorce.
The family court judges the couple’s problems insufficient to warrant divorce and rejects Simin’s application. Simin leaves her husband and daughter and moves back in with her parents. On the recommendation of his wife, Nader hires Razieh, a young, deeply religious woman from a poor suburb, to take care of his father while he works at a bank. Razieh has applied for the job without consulting her hot-tempered husband Hodjat, whose approval, according to tradition, would have been required. Her family is financially dependent on the work, and she takes her daughter to the house with her. Razieh soon becomes overwhelmed by taking care of Nader’s father, which is physically and emotionally demanding. On the first day of work, when she finds that the old man is incontinent, she phones a religious hotline to ask if it would be a sin for her to clean him. Assured that it would be acceptable, she continues in the job, but later hopes to get her husband into the position, without revealing that she had first worked there. She finds the work very heavy, especially as she is pregnant. Nader interviews Hodjat and hires him, but Hodjat, who is heavily in debt, is jailed by his creditors on the day he is due to start, and so Razieh returns to work for Nader.
One day, Nader and Termeh return to discover her grandfather lying unconscious on the floor in his bedroom, with one of his arms tied to the bed. Razieh is nowhere to be found. When Razieh returns, Nader accuses her of neglecting his father and of having stolen money from his room (unbeknownst to Nader, Simin used the money to pay movers). Razieh protests her innocence and requests her payment for the day’s work. Outraged, Nader shoves Razieh out of the apartment. She falls in the stairwell on the way out of the building. Hodjat’s sister later calls Simin to inform her that Razieh is in the hospital because she has suffered a miscarriage.
A court is assigned to determine the cause of the miscarriage and Nader’s potential responsibility for it. If it is proved that Nader knew of Razieh’s pregnancy and caused the miscarriage, he could be sentenced to one to three years imprisonment for murder. Nader accuses Razieh of neglecting his father. The hot-headed and aggressive Hodjat physically confronts Nader on several occasions, and threatens him, his family, and Termeh’s teacher, who testifies on Nader’s behalf. When Hodjat is sent out of a court hearing for an outburst, Razieh reveals that he is deeply depressed, and that he is taking antidepressants for these issues. Nader learns from Razieh’s young daughter that the reason she was absent the day Nader came home early was because she had gone with Razieh to see a doctor, which Razieh had avoided revealing earlier. This news, combined with Hodjat’s explosive temper, causes Nader to wonder if Hodjat is physically abusive to Razieh and had caused her miscarriage.
Termeh protects her father with a false statement and Simin, fearing for her daughter’s safety, attempts to arrange a financial deal with Razieh and Hodjat, to compensate them for the loss of their unborn child. Nader is initially outraged by Simin’s suggestion that they pay Razieh and Hodjat, as he feels that it would be an admission of guilt. But he also must admit that he lied about his knowledge of Razieh’s pregnancy. However, Razieh has serious doubts as to whether Nader’s actions caused the miscarriage; she had earlier been hit by a car while retrieving Nader’s father when he had wandered out of the apartment and had first experienced symptoms of the miscarriage that night. At one point, Simin plans to come back and live with Nader, knowing that she cannot go anywhere as long as her daughter still stays here. However, after another full-blown argument, Simin changes her mind and forces Termeh to leave with her. Nader tells Termeh to go get her mother from the car and that he will agree to paying Razieh and Hodjat, if she does think that he is guilty. Termeh leaves with her mother. As Nader watches Simin’s car pull away, he appears satisfied that his daughter thinks he is innocent.
Eventually, everyone, including Hodjat’s creditors, meets at the home of Razieh and Hodjat to consummate the payment. Nader, still wary about the true cause of Razieh’s miscarriage, writes the check but insists that Razieh swear on the Qur’an that his actions were the cause of her miscarriage. Despite Hodjat’s urgings, Razieh cannot bring herself to swear, as she believes it will be a sin that could endanger their daughter. Totally dejected, Hodjat breaks down, hits himself violently and storms out of his home. Nader withholds the money. Later, at the family court, Nader and Simin have filed for a divorce once again. Their mourning clothes indicate his father has died. The judge makes their separation permanent, and asks Termeh about which parent she chooses to live with. She tearfully says that she has made a decision, but asks that the judge tell her parents to wait outside in the hallway before she tells him. Nader and Simin wait in the hallway, separated by a glass partition.
Looking at the reality are that neither side delivers the total version of their stories and both Nader and Razieh have withheld knowledge of the events in front of the judge and in conversation with their spouses, there’s no precise form of justice that could resolve their conflict. This is perhaps Farhadi’s masterstroke allowing this dense pile-up of details to glide along on the basis of the confusion it routinely creates.
Farhadi ingeniously dilutes the point of view by fluctuating between the two couples and unfolding new evidence that changes our own adherences as well as those of the exasperated judge. In fact, it’s that judge’s point of view that opens the movie, with a camera angle that sits still for nearly five minutes. It’s not an announcement of any ambitious formalism (the movie has a fairly straightforward arc); it confronts the idea of subjective perspective before diving into labyrinthine twists. By the end, Farhadi’s true focus is the flawed capacity for any law — any form of cold rationality, period — to address the slippery nature of human affairs. It’s a frantic microcosm of life itself.
Farhadi came with this concept based on his personal experience and as abstract pictures which had been in Asghar Farhadi’s mind for some time. He decided to make this film in 2010, which was quickly written and financed. Farhadi described the film as the “logical development” from his previous film, About Elly. Like Farhadi’s last three films, A Separation was made without any government support. The financing went without trouble much thanks to the success of About Elly. The production was granted US$25,000 in support from the Motion Picture Association’s APSA Academy Film Fund.
In September 2010, Farhadi was banned from making the film by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, because of an acceptance speech held during an award ceremony where he expressed support for several Iranian film personalities. Notably he had wished to see the return to Iranian cinema of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an exiled filmmaker and Iranian opposition profile, and of the imprisoned political filmmaker Jafar Panahi, both of whom had been connected to the Iranian Green Movement. The ban was lifted in the beginning of October after Farhadi claimed to have been misperceived and apologized for his remarks.
This film led the more important expressive and creative narration in a country just when it seemed impossible for Iranian filmmakers to express themselves meaningfully outside the bounds of censorship, Asghar Farhadi’s character of Nader and Simin in ‘A Separation’ comes a long way to prove the contrary. Apparently simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex, it succeeds in bringing Iranian society into focus for in a way few other films have done balancing the societal norm and not touching the political fabric….. I strongly feel that Iranian Directors are thriving the boundaries in a very sensitive manner and are here to make a brilliant and open-minded decree for the global audience….. Kudos Farhadi
- Written, Produced and Directed by Asghar Farhadi
- Starring: Leila Hatami; Peyman Moaadi; Shahab Hosseini; Sareh Bayat; Sarina Farhadi & Merila Zarei
- Music by Sattar Oraki
- Cinematography by Mahmoud Kalari
- Editing by Hayedeh Safiyari
- Distributed by Filmiran (Iran) & Sony Pictures Classics (US)
- Release dates: 16 March 2011 (Iran)
- Run time of 123 minutes
- Country: Iran
- Language: Persian