Recently Iranian director Asghar Farhadi announced his decision to not attend the Oscars even if allowed to enter the US. Farhadi’s film, A Salesman, was nominated for the foreign film Oscar award. He has declined to attend the ceremony to protest humiliation of his nation with “the pretext of guarding the security of another”. This follows on the heels of Donald Trump signing an order banning the entry of nationals from 7 countries.
On that note, we review another of Farhadi’s powerful movies, also one of Iran’s official Oscar submissions. Aptly, it focused on the protagonist aiming to leave Iran for better avenues. A Separation is a beautifully structured film with a simple story-line. It revolves around a couple forever at odds with each other and trying to get a divorce. Interestingly enough, the film begins with the two arguing in front of an unseen judge. The couple make their arguments to the camera directly, inviting the audience to take sides. The wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) wishes to leave the country with her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). The husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi) wishes to stay in Tehran to care for his father, who has Alzheimer’s and needs constant supervision.
Both seem to have some justifiable reasons on their side.
At various points, the film highlights the skewed sexism in Iranian laws. Simin legally requires Nader’s permission to get a divorce or take their daughter abroad. As he refuses to give either, she goes to live with her parents, forcing him to hire a woman, Razieh, to look after his father. After a turn of events, Nader soon finds himself back in court, against Razieh and her husband. This is also where the film deals with class boundaries, as the former is a far more advantageous position than the latter.
This divide manifests itself in several ways, including social tensions. Nader in Razieh’s husband’s eyes is a corrupt elite, while he views him as an unemployed brute. Farhadi also takes a scalpel to the country’s legal system. Appeals to justice and passionate arguments are made to overworked officials. There is no black and white, but there are plenty of angry denunciations.
Religion plays a vital role in A Separation. The characters often struggle with certain religious conflicts and the difficulties of being honest. To many viewers it will seem extraordinary how the simple fear of the divine, shapes many decisions in the film. The film further depicts women to be more prone to a face saving compromise than the men. It not only showcases fractured relationships with ease, but also allows a vital insight into a normal Iranian household. The film has a constant subtle undertone of sadness and conflict.
The movie comes to a rest on an unexpected fulcrum: the daughter, Termeh. Shy and sensitive, she is forced to choose between her parents. The outcome is less relevant than the knot of questions the film leaves behind. Tantalisingly mysterious, A Separation will perhaps leave the viewer with no clear answers in the end. It will however, give them plenty to think about.
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