Fittingly, A Separation opens in a divorce court, but the breakup of Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) takes up only a small portion of screen time. For much of the movie it is merely a backdrop to the more pressing concerns that pile up on Nader following his wife’s desertion. But the differences underlying this couple’s conflict ripple out from the opening scene and flow into the myriad subplots, informing the film’s reflections on moral obligation, class, religion and the pressures of Iranian life.
Simin is Nader’s mirror image—pragmatic, changeable, indirect. She wants to leave Iran and its “present situation” to give their daughter a better chance at life. Nader accuses her of cowardice and running away from every problem. The pair stand for two ways of living, their outlooks thrown into relief by Nader’s dependent father on the one hand, and the probing, critical eye of their teenage daughter on the other. The needs of the past and the demands of the future weigh heavily on this family and threaten to tear it apart. Yet director Asghar Farhadi’s skilful writing and the constrained, heartfelt performances mean the characters never feel like symbols. They are people with the same spectrum of failings and strengths as all of us, making their trials all the more painful to watch.
It’s this ability to wring profound questions about the right way to live from dramas rooted in the earthy interactions of common people that makes much Iranian cinema so affecting. There is no need here for heroics, extraordinary situations, bloody violence or mawkish emotion. There’s certainly no need for grandstanding speeches about our common humanity. In its story and characters, A Separation illuminates the common threads of care, love, stupidity and blindness that bond relations the world over. It subtly traces the profound moral questions that lie beneath the small, prosaic choices we make every day. And finally, it shows that clinging to moral certainties can sometimes wound as deeply as vacillation. We can never live without inflicting some pain on others, no matter how honourable our intentions.
A Separation, director, writer, producer Asghar Farhadi, performers Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Iran, 2011, distributed in Australia by Hopscotch Films; http://www.hopscotchfilms.com.au
This article was originally published as part of RT's online e-dition march 20.
RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 19
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