Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
Runtime: 123 mins.
Australian release date: 6 February 2014
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 20 January 2014
Ashgar Farhadi’s A Separation is set in contemporary Iran and deals with the problems faced by a family confronting a repressive legal system. It depicts how insurmountable these problems are in a country where women are oppressed, struggling for the rights they have been denied and in turn, men are held ransom by an upsurge in determination and resistance to their demands. It also poses the question, ‘does a child have a better future in his or her own country or abroad?’
In the opening scene we witness a married middle-class couple in court filing for divorce. They address the camera directly, a dramatic technique that puts the viewer in the judge’s seat. Simin (Lela Hatami) wants to go abroad and take her 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) with her. Her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) refuses to accept the proposal as his father Ali (Asghar Shahbazi), who lives with them, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and requires constant attention. Simin wants out because, even though their situation is incredibly sad, she sees a better future for their daughter overseas. The tension of their situation increases as the visas Simin has acquired are due to expire in a few weeks, after which this window of opportunity will close forever. In desperation, she moves back to her parents’ home, leaving Termeh with Ali.
It is this set of circumstances that sets the narrative for the rest of the story. Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a deeply religious woman, is employed by Ali to take over the role of carer and she turns up at his flat with her daughter, unable to afford childcare. Razieh has problems of her own; her husband is unemployed and has a huge chip on his shoulder and, to top it all off, she is pregnant. This adds to her woes as she has to travel a long distance to get to her job. The ensuing drama reveals the suppression of females experienced not only by women from the educated classes, but also by women with little education beyond that preached by the imams in the local mosque; both Razieh and Simin are living with males who demand total control of their lives.
Farhadi’s film delves into the terrible mess that erupts when things start to go horribly wrong and motivations are misunderstood. The problems are amplified by a justice system that seems to side with this male dominance and refuses to come to some compromise or understanding about the rights of individuals and the need to compensate in different situations. In the middle of all this is Termeh, who is used like a yo-yo by her parents, and bears witness to the emotional tsunami roaring towards her.
There are no clear winners in this drama and it takes its toll on its audience, helped in no small degree by the in-your-face handheld camerawork of Mahmoud Kalari. You leave the cinema feeling frustrated by the experience (the protagonists’ positions are not all black or all white) and yet you can’t help but admire the tenacity of the women who are living their lives with their backs rammed up against a wall held upright by traditional values. Farhadi, however, is adamant in pointing out that although the film is culturally Iranian, marriage is cross-cultural, “… and the issue of human relationships is not specific to a given place or culture”. This is as fine a piece of cinema and A Separation resoundingly deserved the Oscar it won for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film.