A Separation was the year’s biggest surprise, even more than The Artist. No one could foresee the brilliance of Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece, which is one of the most stunning films I’ve ever had the pleasure to view. A Separation received widespread critical acclaim when it debuted, earning a 95 on Metacritic and was ranked second on Sound and Sight Magazine’s Best Films of 2011 poll. At the Oscars, it won Best Foreign Film and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. And guess what? It completely deserves all the awards and attention that it has received. A Separation is an absorbing movie, and surely the best that’s come out in recent years. It’s noticeable that the year’s three strongest pictures were all family dramas (other than A Separation, The Tree of Life and The Descendants), and A Separation is certainly very powerful.
The film is about a modern day couple Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) living in Iran. Simin wants to leave the country in hope that their 11-year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) would have a better life, but Nader doesn’t want to leave his alzheimers-struck father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) behind. Simin then moves into her mother’s apartment and attempts to divorce Nader. However, both Nader and Simin want to stay married and don’t really hate each other.
Nader then hires a maid named Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who keeps her job secret from her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who wouldn’t let her work in a man’s household. One day Nader returns home to find his father on the floor half dying with his hand tied to the bed, some missing money, and Razieh gone. When Razieh returns to the apartment, Nader is outraged and forces her to leave, though Razieh protests that she did not steal the money.
As it turns out Razieh was actually pregnant and soon after she is forced out of Nader’s home loses her unborn child. She and Hodjat then sue Nader and charge him for murder of the baby, leading the rest of the film to go on from there.
Farhadi supplies us with an intriguing plot. We learn more and more about the characters and the story as the film progresses, completely grabbing our attention. He reveals secrets and plays out key scenes very well. There is no music in A Separation except in the credits, which helps keeps us focused on the story. What goes on in the film will keep you glued on the screen.
Perhaps it can noted about the present day situation in Iran. After A Separation won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, some started criticizing the film for political reasons only. I doubt that these people had actually seen the film, otherwise they’d know it’s about a family, not some propaganda. A Separation shows peoplke trying to live in a modern day world but also abide to their Islamic religion. Hodjat, for example, is a devout Muslim and tries to get people to swear by the Koran. But these characters aren’t Islamic stereotypes some people are foolish enough to believe in. All these characters are decent people who want to do the right thing. From my plot description it sounds like Razieh and Hodjat are the film’s villains but as we learn more about them that may not be the case.
The performances by Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, and pretty much everyone else in the movie are spectacular. Honestly I thought they completely filled their parts and really made me believe what was going on. Moadi in particular is great in role and has the best performance I’ve seen from 2011. We can see the pain in his eyes. In some scenes we express empathy for him. In others we should dislike him.
Of course director Farhadi deserves much credit for the film’s success. The movie was made on a shoestring budget compared to most Hollywood films these days but has a billion times more integrity and heart. Farhadi has many scenes and shots that are all completely vital to the film. The opening in particular is a fascinating piece of filmmaking, which is a one shot take of Nader’s and Simin’s divorce trial. Farhadi twists our emotions and makes us absorb the characters. We really care what is going on the screen.
In years to come, people will still be talking about A Separation. Very few films are as well made and executed as Farhadi’s masterpiece, and fewer are quite as memorable.