A Separation Explores Iranian Family Politics
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 20:04
I did not know what to expect when I stepped into theatres to see A Separation. It was before the film’s Oscar nod, although I had only seen rave reviews of it online. From the trailer, I surmised that there was a divorce and its successive arguments led to an accusation of murder. Little did I know how intense the film would get.
Set in modern day Iran, the film opens with the divorce between Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and his wife Simin (Leila Hatami). Nader refuses Simin’s request to leave the country and seek a new life elsewhere because of his elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Simin’s absence leads to Nader hiring a rather poor and religious pregnant woman, Razieh, to work and care for his father. Seeking to ease the toll that her pregnancy, the physically exhausting work and the long daily commute take on her, Razieh suggests that her husband, Hodjat, take her place. Held back by creditors, Hodjat leaves Razieh to return to work. The tension between Nader and Razieh reaches its zenith when Nader returns home early to find his father unconscious, alone and tied to his bed. Angry at her negligence, Nader accuses Razieh of stealing and, in the heat of the moment, shoves the pregnant woman out of the house. Razieh trips and falls on the stairs, and her resulting miscarriage leads to Nader’s charge of murder.
This simple situation unravels quickly, descending into one that is socially, psychologically and morally complex. There are no explosions or car chases, yet the adrenaline of all the big action Hollywood films is there. In the hands of a lesser director, the growing tension between each character could be easily sapped since the majority of the conflict is subtle and psychological. Asghar Farhadi proves incredibly deft with his directing, managing to maintain the suspense throughout the entire film. It is not easy to juggle the underlying storylines of the two couples and their children, all the while weaving them into a cohesive whole that is easy to follow. Brief flashes of dark humor prevent the film’s tension from becoming suffocating.
The film helps shatter many enduring stereotypes of Muslim women. The women here do not hide behind their men: they exercise their own agency. While Razieh is soft spoken and defers to her husband, she speaks up for herself when she is accused of thievery. In spite of her heavy pregnancy and fatigue, she continues to support her family.
When Simin decides to seek more freedom, she follows through with her decision, packs up and leaves. Though no longer tied to her now ex-husband, Simin takes the initiative of finding alternative solutions to resolve her husband’s murder charges and assumes the role of mediator between Razieh and Nader throughout the trial. It is clear throughout the film that, despite their differences, Razieh and Simin are women of action.
As the credits rolled, I was stuck. None of the characters are flawless and all of them warrant some level of sympathy and understanding. I sympathized with Nader’s sense of duty toward his father, with Hodjat’s anger over the loss of his child, with Razieh’s desire to help her family and with Simin’s longing for personal liberty. The difficulty of separating who is right from who is wrong makes one question similar moral distinctions in real life. The different intricate moments in the plot reflect the layered contradictions of the human psyche.
The film is a must-see not only because it is beautifully crafted and well acted, but also because it shows that we are more similar to one another than we think.