A Separation

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Country Iran

Runtime 123 mins

Language Farsi with English subtitles

Written and Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi  and Sareh Bayat

A married couple are faced with separation when they’re unable to agree on a difficult, life changing decision. Should they leave Iran to improve the life of their adolescent daughter; or to stay in Iran and look after an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s. The opening of the film sees Simin (Leila Hatami) pleading with a legal mediator/judge to be granted a divorce from her husband Nader (Peyamn Moadi). The Iranian legal authority says that without her husband’s permission and they begin the titular Separation. As Simin moves out and can no longer care for Nader’s house bound father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) – Nader employs Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for him. I fear to giveaway too much by telling you anything further about the events – but I have to say that a dispute occurs over the quality of her care and results in an event that colours the rest of the film.

Iranian cinema is probably my favourite international regional cinema. The vice like censorship that the Government places on their creative community has cultivated an eloquent and poetic visual and scripted language that doesn’t need to be overt to be able to say powerful and prescient things with the cinematic medium. The great layered and loaded scenes/characters/visual composition of the great Iranian works of the last two decades have left critical and cinema loving audiences around the globe speechless, moved and rabid for more. A Separation is a profound social document. In the guise of a somewhat melodramatic catalyst (now Oscar winning) writer/director Asghar Farhadi examines modern Iran. Farhadi covers the tense and tenuous relationship between upper and lower class Iran; the relationship between religion and class; the influence of religion in different spheres of society; Iranian law and its relationship to religion; and finally takes a very relatable humanist approach to portraying real authentic feeling characters that don’t easily fit into the archetypal binaries of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Farhadi builds a veritable web of multi-forked roads where the characters decisions impact not only themselves but the symbiotic group occupying the film.

This is an amazing ensemble piece that rests solely on the performers and the Farhadi’s ability to get them to occupy their characters. I feel that I have to mention all of the key players individually because of what they’re able to bring to the role.

Peyman Moadi: Nader

Moadi seems to repress his emotion as Nader. In order to be in control of situations with the more emotional Simin he seems detached and uncaring. In the quiet and intimate moments where he’s caring for his invalid father who barely recognises who he is – there’s such a sweet damaged tenderness that evokes so much of the emotional truth of the character.

Leila Hatami: Simin

Hatami can’t control her emotions where Nader’s involved. She desperately wants him to engage and fight with and for her. She’s an independent and fiercely intelligent character that feels oppressed by the state of Iran and is desperate to get her daughter out of a country that she perceives that can and will suppress her future. However she’s got a glacial intelligence that is portrayed when she’s protecting Nader from the ‘event’ in the film.

Sareh Bayat: Razieh

Bayat gives us an insight into religious Iran, she’s concerned that her activities in the care of an elderly man are sinful, and at one point calls a priest to query if assisting him wash, is sinful. Her performance demonstrates the inner turmoil of the timid obedient stereotypical devout Muslim woman, and contrasts it with an extrovert impassioned defensive display when she’s required to protect her family or her reputation in the eyes of God.

 Shahab Hosseini: Hodjat (Razieh’s Husband and Somayeh’s Father)

Hosseini is wonderful as the defeated and soft spoken Hodjat that effortlessly mutates into a threatening and volatile man with nothing to lose. Hosseini is the kind of character that you empathize with, detest, are afraid of and are shocked by how decisively he cuts to really burning questions. This is a dynamic performance that I would love to mean more international acting work.

 Sarina Farhadi: Termeh

Sarina Farhadi is wonderful as the measured and studious Termeh. There’s a quiet determination in her that denotes her potential. She’s also desperately (and subtly) trying to hold her parents fractured relationship together by staying with her father. There are some moments that the fate of her family is unconsciously placed into her hands and the young actress must be commended for her nuanced, rich but measured reactions.

Farhadi paints real, ambiguous, and engaging people in this bad situation, and ultimately contrasts the beauty and ugliness of humanity.

 A Separation infuses a great insight into modern Iran with a powerful insight into the human condition – this demonstrates the power and poetic potential of cinematic drama. It’s a MUST see.

Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman