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  Separation, A Breaking The Law
Year: 2011
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Marella Zare'i, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Babak Karimi, Kimia Hosseini, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Sahabanu Zolghadr
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and his wife Simin (Leila Bayat) want a divorce, but in Iran there have to be definite and valid circumstances for that to occur, so when they visit the court to explain to the judge their reasons, he is less than convinced when she tells him Nader has not been abusive towards her, nor has he committed adultery, it's because he refuses to capitalise on the visa she has arranged for the family to go abroad for fresh opportunities, especially the chance at a far better life for their eleven-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). But the husband feels he has to stay to look after his ailing father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who suffers from senility, and though he has agreed to a separation he just won't leave him...

A Separation, or Jodaeiye Nader az Simin as it was known in Iran, was distinguished by dint of being the first Iranian film to win an Oscar, for Best Foreign Language Film, thereby raising the profile of its writer and director Asghar Farhadi considerably, and into the bargain allowing an insight for outsiders into the world of its native country. Showing a country that, in this case had been subject to some demonisation abroad, to be populated with people whose concerns were universal could only have been a good thing in increasing connections and sympathies between various communities, and indeed Farhadi's efforts probably did more for Iran than any number of diplomats had ever achieved in its contemporary history.

As to the plot, it began coming across like a soap opera style melodrama about the heartache of a marriage split, but by no means was it content to stay there as Simin opts to move out of the home she shares with her husband and daughter, leaving a problem in that there's nobody there to look after the elderly father. Here's where the crux of the narrative arrived as Nader organises outside help in the form of pregnant Razieh (Sareh Bayat) who is taking the task unbeknownst to her unemployed but strictly religious husband so as not to shame him, but there was more to the job than she anticipates when left alone with the old man and he soils himself. Can she change his clothes and clean him or is that against the religious rules of her society? She finds she has to do whatever the rules say.

Now she certainly cannot tell her husband, but the grandfather is in such a bad state that she decides she cannot continue anyway, even if she does need the money, so you can see how a simple beginning, assuming a divorce is ever simple, can spiral off into various entanglements, particularly when events conspire to see Razieh get into a heated argument with Nader when he returns home to find his father has been left alone tied to the bed, and has collapsed in the meantime. She has been away on what he thinks are errands, though she has a more serious reason, and that's the point where you begin to realise you're not getting the whole picture, and actually Farhadi is withholding a lot of information to keep the audience in suspense and the characters at each other's throats.

Although the director rightly won a wealth of acclaim for A Separation, expertly crafted and edited as it is, it's possible to not buy into the drama entirely. That is to say, while it becomes a stressful watch the film does so by keeping everyone except the filmmaker in the dark, therefore when it becomes something akin to one of those nineteen-seventies American television shows where we were asked to piece together events along with the investigator(s), there was something rather unfair about the way Farhadi went about that. This was a case of the whole thing being unnecessary if the characters had simply been honest with one another from the outset, and there was a streak of cruelty in sustaining that tension for the full two hours, and even then not telling us one crucial aspect of the conclusion, leaving us to make an educated guess as to what it might have been. Still, if you didn't mind being toyed with in such a blatant fashion, A Separation was very well acted, illuminating for many of those who caught it, and possibly evidence Farhadi had an outright thriller in him. Music by Sattar Oraki.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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