Wednesday, March 07, 2012
A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
In A SEPARATION Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) have reached a major disagreement in their fourteen-year marriage. They and their eleven-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) have received their visas, but the window to use them will soon be closing. Simin wishes to leave Iran for the United States because she wants a better life for her daughter than what she believes awaits her in their home country. Nader refuses to go because he must take care of his Alzheimer’s stricken father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi).
Feeling as though she has no alternative, Simin files for a divorce. She freely admits that her husband does not treat her poorly. Nader does not wish to end their relationship. Informed of these facts, the judge sees no just cause for granting the divorce. Simin expresses her displeasure by moving into her parents’ home.
With his wife gone, Nader needs someone to attend to his father while he works. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a poor woman who must make a long commute to Tehran to earn her pay. The requirements of the job present challenges that may exceed what she can handle, but Razieh needs the money, especially with her hotheaded husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) in debt to creditors.
The situation takes a turn for the worse when Nader makes two discoveries not to his liking and fires her on the spot. The outcome of their argument leads to legal charges that could bring serious trouble to both families.
Writer-director Asghar Farhadi performs some kind of miracle with the tension and complexity he produces from such a simple set-up. Even more impressively, he does it by observing all sides fairly and having them present the truth as they know it. Here are two couples attempting to make the best of their undesirable circumstances at home and in the judicial system, yet the more they try to wiggle their ways out of their problems, the more serious the consequences become.
Certainly plenty is at stake in the legal dispute, but as information is revealed in testimony, the repercussions for each side threaten to greatly exceed what any of them could have anticipated. Even striving to make things right after a difficult investigation can have negative, unforeseeable results. Relationships are also at risk. Nader and Simin were happily married, and their choices can be justified. What is the correct decision when improving a child’s prospects means abandoning an ill parent or reliant relative?
The stress of picking between impossible options creates the cracks. Endeavoring to heal them increases the fractures. Being right within a marriage and the court is important to all parties, but the cost can be steep, especially when arriving at the superior judgment is practically unachievable.
Farhadi’s exceptional screenplay for A SEPARATION is a model of dramatic structure. The makers of Hollywood thrillers wish they could turn out films this nerve-racking, let alone ones that achieve such narrative pressure through ordinary conversations that spouses and legal combatants might engage in.
The uniformly excellent cast pulls audience loyalties with great skill. Moadi gains sympathy as the wounded spouse and suffering child, but he also plays Nader with stubbornness and anger that can make him difficult to support at times. Hatami stands firm as a protective mother whose singular mindset can exacerbate matters. Bayat attracts compassion and aggravates through her effort to act properly according to rigid expectations.
A SEPARATION isn’t strictly about divorce or other marital parting of ways, but a crucial portion consists of providing perspective on how spousal divisions and disagreements affect children. Termeh and Razieh’s young daughter are mostly silent witnesses to the domestic and legal battles around them. In a film teeming with emotional potency, the most devastating moments come in the acknowledgment that regardless of what the adults sort out, these girls are bystanders who absorb significant injuries of their own.
(Note: A SEPARATION was not seen in time for consideration among my picks for the best films of 2011. If it had, it would have ranked third on my Top 10 list.)