Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Separation
(Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Facts, Fictions, Truths, And The Gulf That Is Reality

Leila Hatami as Simin and Peyman Moadi as Nader in Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-nominated drama "A Separation". 
Sony Pictures Classics


Omar P.L. Moore/         Follow popcornreel on TwitterFOLLOW                                            
Wednesday, February 1
, 2012

Asghar Farhadi's dual-Oscar nominated drama from Iran, "A Separation", is one superbly written film about degrees of distance and perception -- not just between Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi), an estranged married couple who split when Simin wants to leave Iran without her father-in-law (Nader refuses to leave his Alzheimer's-stricken father behind) -- but between perception and reality, men and women, children and adults.  Simin is compelled to stay in Iran, moving to her parents' home when their daughter Termeh decides to stay with her father.

Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a maid, to look after his father during the day.  An incident happens and we see its end result.  An accusation is made.  An altercation occurs.  The truth and reality of these three events is obscured in their own way by time, missing elements, objects and words.  At all times "A Separation" is about communication and how its absence causes immeasurable and possibly irreparable harm.  Many times the filmmaker himself curtails our view of the matters before us, adding to the tension and curiosity of the events and participants in them.  One of the best films of 2011 or any year, "A Separation" is rich, well-conceived and always invested in capturing human drama and its inherent contradiction.

As wonderfully expressed on the big screen Mr. Farhadi brings his brilliant, incisive writing to each of the film's situations and characters, in particular young Termeh, played beautifully by the director's real-life daughter Sarina Farhadi, whose big screen character is relentlessly analytical in the honest, refreshing way that children are.  Ms. Farhadi, closest to being the film audience's eyes and ears, brings immense gravitas and context to the adult situations Termeh witnesses, ones often filled with lies, exaggerations and bendings of the truth.  Throughout, Termeh has been processing what she is experiencing in a subtle way as if a juror, assessing facts, words and interactions, and making a decision about her future based upon all the variables she's faced with.  When the end arrives we suspect -- even if we're not entirely sure -- where she will end up.

Besides Ms. Farhadi the cast is extremely good, most notably Ms. Bayat as Razieh, the maid at the center of some of the film's most crucial events.  Both Ms. Farhadi and Ms. Bayat won last year's Silver Bear Award for best actress at the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) as part of the actress acting ensemble also including Ms. Hatami, palpable here, and best actor (Mr. Moadi, penetrating and powerful as Nader.)  "A Separation" also won the Festival]s Golden Bear award for best film.  Last week the film was nominated for best original screenplay and best foreign language film Academy Awards, the latter of which it should win, although it deserves to win both.

Part-morality play and part-family loyalty exercise, "A Separation" demonstrates that marriage and good parenting are two completely different and distinct entities that have little at all to do with one another.  Were Simin and Nader good spouses?  We only know that they are apart.  Are they good parents?  Both highly principled individuals, they instill positive values in Termeh that any other caring parent would to their own children.  Simin and Nader despite their flaws, appear to be good people.  Sometimes though, two good people are not good together, and for whatever reason (if any beyond Simin's wanting to leave Iran with Nader and Termeh), Simin and Nader can no longer remain together. 

"A Separation" ("Jodaeiye Nader az Simin" is its native title) captures excellent moments of compassion, anger, equanimity, respect, outrage and tension, as well as dilemmas that rip at the core of the film's moral drama.  Mr. Farhadi's written words, as shown in subtitles, have an authoritative heartbeat and rhythm.  More than even the fine acting on display the written word is what brings this clinical film to life in such profound and intimate ways.  As a conversation piece and a drama "A Separation" is wondrously alive with invigoration and the passion of thought.  You feel these character's thoughts as they utter the words that summarize them.  You instinctively believe you know whether they are being honest or not. 

To his credit, the Iranian-born Mr. Farhadi also diversifies his depiction of Iranian women, something many directors not native to the country often avoid doing.  Each woman in "A Separation" is resolute, confident, vulnerable, decisive, protective and real.  The film's look is also real, wearing tones of muted color and earthy texture.

The director has the complete landscape of his characters at his disposal, making each and every one of them rounded, voluble and flawed.  One could argue that each is a problem-escalator rather than a problem-solver, and when traditions in the tight-knit families seen in the film become a source of conflict, who is right and who is wrong?  "A Separation" shows how one action, non-action or falsehood can have a devastating effect on families, their reputations and honor.  The film shows the layers and dangers of how one lie begets another, and how one character's ingenuity and improvisation is acquired by what is seen, learned and observed.  None of the native customs are caricatured or expediently used in this human drama, which invites empathy and, in the capable hands of Mr. Farhadi in his fifth feature, reveal a discerning, conscientious evenhandedness.

Mr. Farhadi makes full use of the investigative process of puzzle-solving, presenting situations without commentary or judgment and asking the audience as outsiders to make decisions about what they see and determine who, if anyone, is culpable in the  transpiring events.  As with all films but especially "A Separation", the audience, not the director-screenwriter, has the greatest power in shaping an interpreting the film's events.  To an extent Iranian customs come into play, further complicating actions and their consequences, making the story more authentic and fraught with social and moral entanglement.  Even for audiences not familiar with traditions in Iran or contemporary Iranian mores, the drama the crisis of some customs create in the film's shrewd, mature storytelling is riveting.

On a cinematic level "A Separation" eloquently and consistently attains an undeniable and elementary truth if not always a purely literal one: that the distance between what we see and what we believe is often filled with much murkiness -- and that what is shown is often more complex than any exacting words chosen or spoken to represent it.

With: Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Kimia Hosseini, Merila Zarei.

"A Separation" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for mature thematic material  The film is in the Persian language with English subtitles.  The film's running time is two hours and three minutes.

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