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A Separation

Released 2011. Director: Asghar Farhadi

WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? As the movie starts, married couple Nader and Simin are seated side by side addressing a judge. The audience is in the position of the judge, facing the couple. As such, Nader and Simin are talking straight at the camera, as if they were speaking to us. We are drawn in to abdicate a case. This is what the movie invites us to do: to evaluate the facts, to consider each person’s situation, to hear his or her reasoning, to weigh the arguments and resolve their thorny problems.

Nader and Simin are asking the court to grant a divorce. Simin has been granted immigration papers to leave Iran and she wants to leave because she believes her daughter will have a better future outside Iran. Nader doesn’t want to leave because he has an elderly father who has Alzheimer’s Disease and needs constant care. Their request is dismissed because the court has no legitimate reason to separate the couple.

Simin leaves to stay with her parents. Nader hires a woman named Razieh to look after his father while he’s at work. This arrangement only lasts a few days when Nader returns home one evening and finds his father has fallen from his bed, near death, with one of his hand still tied to the bed post. Nader is so angry when Razieh returns later from an errand he fires her. In the shouting and commotion that ensues, Nader pushes Razieh out his front door.

What happens here is a case of he says, she says. Razieh claims that her miscarriage is caused by falling down the stairs after being pushed by Nader. Razieh’s hot-headed husband Hodjat gets involved and takes Nader to court for manslaughter.

This full-blown family crisis with messy emotional ramifications is an impressive example of a meticulously constructed script. The story does not take side; it argues for everybody by showing us aspects of each character a little at a time. Arguably, nobody is wrong, nobody is right. There is no villain or hero in this story. These are ordinary people who work and care for their family. They are flawed, selfish, caring, pious. In the end all they want is happiness for their own family, a basic need caught in a tangle of seemingly minor actions that build up to a crushing weight.

The unfolding of events deal with matters of honesty (Is Razieh being truthful about being pushed down the stairs? Is Nader not aware of Razieh’s pregnancy before the incident?), sacrifice (Nader chooses to end his marriage to take care of his father), financial survival (Hodjat fighting to reach compensation to pay his debts), honour (whether they would swear on the Quran to prove their innocence), and how the actions of the parents affect the moral compass of their children, in particular 11-year-old Termeh, who is acutely aware of her parents’ predicament and must decide what she wants for her own future, to stay with her father or leave with her mother.

A Separation makes good use of its setting of a strict religious environment. Issues such as a woman working in a single man’s home caring for an older man and swearing on the Quran are integral to the story and outcome. This is compelling drama, cogently, skilfully directed without sentimentality. The actors imbue their characters with heart and soul. It’s as though they were re-enacting their own life stories, in all their complications and compromises.


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