A Separation is the fifth film by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. With the film’s full title being Nader and Simin: A Separation, it is a film that deals with a divorce and the consequences that follow.
The opening scene is filmed in one shot with the two leads Nader and Simin (the fantastic Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami) arguing about their case in front of an impartial third party. The camera is angled from the perspective of the judge and the placement of the actors is carefully symmetrical. As the judge is left unseen, the audience is put, from the very beginning, in a judicial role. It is up to us to decide which character is most worthy of our sympathy as the film plays out.
Independent-minded and politically aware Simin requests the divorce so that she can escape from the country, which Nader refuses to do due to his responsibilities to his ailing father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is clear that, though they are divorcing, they both still have a lot of affection for each other. Simin does not leave the country, however, waiting on their daughter (played by the director’s own daughter, Sarina Farhadi) who has been left to decide who she wants to live with. This paves the way for the arrival of a second couple, Hodjat and Razieh (the also-fantastic Shahab Hosseini and Sareh Bayat). Nader hires the devout Razieh to care for his father, but it is not long before a dispute sees him throwing her out of his house in anger. From here on, things become much more complex.
The film examines many facets of separation in Iranian society, separations between law and compassion, religion and human decency, class and equality, pride and fulfilment and tradition and progression. Without it ever being said, Simin’s reasons for wanting to leave the country are clear and much is made of Razieh’s faith getting in the way of her ability to carry out all that Nader’s father needs. As a result, every character has their reasons and deciding who to blame and who to sympathize with becomes impossible. The film features several scenes in which the characters must justify their actions to a judge, who has to sift through the details of the ensuing accusations. Like most court room-based films, it is engrossing drama, but A Separation has much more than that to offer. As the film constantly plays with your sympathies, it becomes clear that life is just not as black and white as many films would like you to believe. Even the film’s most apparent ‘bad guy’ becomes the film’s most pathetic.
This makes A Separation a powerfully human film; one that accepts its characters at face value and is not afraid to create an impossible situation, one where no one will win and nothing will be wrapped up with a neat little bow. The film ends like it begins, with the audience having to decide for themselves, though by the end they are even less equipped to decide who most deserves to get what they want.
A Separation is a subtle critique on traditional values, seeing them as sustaining their own existence by the avoidance of compassion and acceptance. But it is also a film that deals with some very difficult subject matter and does it truthfully and with much sincerity. Unlike many films of this sort, it also has the courage of its convictions, right through to the end, making it a remarkable and emotionally draining experience.