This year’s recipient of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film was “A Separation.” It’s the story of marital conflict, caring for an ailing parent, keeping secrets and telling lies. And, although it’s set in present-day Iran, the message that the film puts forth is universal.
In the opening scene, Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), a middle-class couple, are seeking a divorce. They sit before a judge (heard but unseen) and stare into the camera as they make their case. Simin wants to move abroad to provide a better life for their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), while Nader wants to remain in Tehran to care for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father.
When the judge refuses to grant a divorce, Simin and Nader agree to a separation. Simin moves in with her parents, and Termeh, in a well thought-out move, remains with her father. She knows that her mother will never leave her behind. Nader hires a caregiver, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who is pregnant. Razieh, a strict Muslim, keeps the job a secret from her hot-headed husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), knowing he’d never approve of her working for a man.
All hell breaks loose when Nader accuses Razieh of abusing his father and of theft. An inadvertent shove by Nader causes Razieh to miscarry. Or does it? As this fascinating film unfolds, we’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth. I’m not certain if director/writer Asghar Farhadi is paying homage to Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” but it seems so. “A Separation” feels acutely familiar on so many levels.
As we argue class distinction in our own country, Farhadi explores Iran’s. The anger that develops among his characters is sometimes based on the perception that rich people always prevail. Resentment begins to fuel hatred and, eventually, violence ensues in the film.
Farhadi admits that he takes a long time to choose his actors, and it pays off — big time. The ensemble of men and women he casts is nothing less than perfection. At times, I felt as though I were watching a documentary because of the authenticity that the actors exuded. The delicate and yet forceful script is so well balanced that we, as an audience, are unable to take sides with anyone.
At the heart of “A Separation” is the story of a married couple. But oppression, class distinction and doing the right thing play prominently in its telling. “A Separation” is one of those rare intimate films, which deserves a second look because you leave the theater with unanswered questions.
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