Saturday, 11 February 2012
FILM REVIEW: A SEPARATION
In Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, good people are forced to choose between doing what is right and what is best, a decision further complicated by the Iranian culture in which they live and the faith some of them subscribe to, creating a moral complexity which sees this taut domestic drama play out more like a thriller.
The film opens with Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) petitioning the court for a divorce, which is apparently -- and surprisingly -- easily achieved in Iran if both parties consent. Simin wants to move her family overseas to better the future of her teenage daughter, Termeh (Sarina Fahardi); the divorce proceedings are a result of Nader's refusal to leave Iran while his elderly, Alzheimer's stricken father is still alive.
Until Nader agrees to the divorce, Simin moves in with her mother but arranges for Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a relative of a friend, to work as housekeeper for Nader and nursemaid for his father. And that's when the family's troubles really begin.
Razieh, a devout Muslim who hasn't the approval of her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), to seek employment and isn't sure the Qu'ran approves of her nursing a man who is not a relative, reluctantly takes the job.
But then one day Nader and Termeh arrive home to find Razieh absent and the old man fallen off his bed to which he has been tied. Upon her return, which she never properly explains, Nader angrily fires accusations at Razieh and expels her, physically, from his home, setting in motion a chain of events which sees everyone caught up in Iran's unique legal system.
I wasn't aware of Razieh's secret (the reason why she abandoned the old man) going in to A Separation -- a rarity these days where it's nigh impossible not to know everything about a film before seeing it; especially one as lauded and awarded as this -- and I won't reveal it here.
Needless to say, the title of Farhadi's film is not about the literal separation between husband and wife but the more complex separation between one's heart and head, between faith and belief, pride and humility, and between right and good.
All characters in this complex drama are torn between two positions and make their decisions based on what is best for them. But not in a selfish or malicious manner. Indeed, there are no bad people in A Separation, merely ones who act without enough forethought for the consequences of their actions.
The film's most heartbreaking moment comes when Termeh (played by the director's daughter) learns that she must lie to the court on behalf of her father; you can almost see the young girl's heart break.
A Separation screened at the Sydney Film Festival back in June 2011 where it won the major prize and was also a hit with audiences. The film has since gone on to collect accolades around the world, culminating in this week's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
I missed Farhadi's film back in June (not for lack of trying) and wish I had been able to come to it sans buzz. If A Separation didn't affect me as strongly as it might have, that has less to do with the film and more my own heightened expectations.
For it is an almost flawlessly executed film (it was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars): perfectly performed, emotional, morally complex, and with an insight into a culture we in the West really know little about, but one with hearts and minds as recognisably human as our own.