a separationIt is never an easy thing to sit there and watch the dissolution of a marriage and as a result a family. Especially when director/screenwriter Asghar Farhadi shows us a marriage not falling apart for the usual reasons of mental or physical abuse, infidelity or falling out of love. So just when you think it is going to be a simple relationship/family drama Farhadi throws in the curveball of adding a mystery into the mix.  Then he ices this whole big cinematic cake with a frosting consisting of socio-political-religious undercurrents. Delicious!

You got tension. You got drama. It’s all there in a finely paced dramatic thriller. It can be as complex as it is clear. Right alongside the characters we struggle over what is right and wrong. Morals can be a tricky thing. All this hinges on what part of the world we were brought up in, what our families were like and what part of society we belong to. Like I said, complex. The complexity extends to the characters. Not a one of them is completely innocent. None of them is completely good. All have ulterior motives and are a little self centered. These layers and flaws in the characters is what makes the film so engrossing.

Part of the interesting aspect of this film is what each viewer brings to the watching of it. We all bring our perspectives and baggage along with us. Unless you are Muslim and Iranian it is hard to really understand the choices all of the characters make.

In A Separation, this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, middle class couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) are splitting because she does not want to bring up their daughter, 11-year-old Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), in Iran.  Simin wants to move in order to bring Termeh up in a less restrictive society (the West) where she will have a multitude of choices. Nader refuses to leave because he is taking care of his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer’s. When Nader refuses to budge and Termeh indicates she doesn’t want to leave her native country, Simin still goes ahead with the divorce but the judge refuses to grant it. Instead of returning to live with her family, Simin stays with her parents.

Without any other choice, Nader hires a woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to watch after his father while he is at work. One day he comes home to find the front door to the flat locked and no one answering the door.  Once inside he finds his father on the floor of his bedroom barely breathing, tied to the bedpost by his arm and Razieh nowhere to be found.

Furious to the point of explosion when Razieh finally does show up a confrontation happens.  It becomes physical and a tragedy occurs.  Now Razieh and her husband (Shahab Hosseini) are in a legal battle against Nader. This battle affects everyone in their families, especially Termeh.

The acting is great, the story universal and much of the specifics are unique to Iranian society. All in all a very engrossing film and one of the better ones of 2011.