Film Review – A Separation

A Separation Movie PosterFamily and the issues surrounding what is best for one’s family are dominant themes of life no matter where you are in the world. In Asgar Farhadi’s A Separation, out on DVD yesterday, Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are one of those families, and have reached an impasse, particularly when it comes to their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Nader’s and Simin’s past is kept from the viewer, but the undercurrents of their issues are apparent in their demeanor. Both want a better life for their daughter. Simin sees the only way to accomplish this as leaving Iran, so their daughter will have more options. Nader claims he cannot leave because of his ill father, but there is also a pride in him that makes him want his daughter to learn in Iran and make her life there in their homeland. We see in how they fight that it has been going on for some time now. Nader is exhausted and is willing to give in to Simin’s demands to get a divorce, but will not give up his daughter.

Neither character is obviously right here, which gives the issue its weight. Nader’s father is very unwell and cannot manage, and Termeh, at age eleven, seems a bright young girl who studies hard and is very close to her father and doesn’t appear to want to leave. While the issues about what chances a woman has in Iran are stated without being explicit, we know Simin’s feelings already.

While the impasse between the two parents is happening, Simin moves out, so Nader hires a friend of a friend, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to help out. She is a religious woman with a husband who is in debt, she is pregnant with her second child, and she wants to help make money for them. The work causes her stress when the father wets himself, and she wonders if it will be a sin for her to see him naked. She is reluctant to continue the work due to her faith and her condition, but continues on anyway.

Nader comes home early one day and finds that his father has been locked in and has suffered a fall and almost died, with Razieh nowhere to be found. When Razieh returns without explaining where she was, and Nader argues with her and pushes her out of the door to the apartment. While rough, it does not seem excessive, but later Razieh suffers a miscarriage and Razieh and her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) file a complaint.

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Throughout the entire film, the idea that Nader somehow caused the miscarriage seemed impossible to me. While he pushed Razieh through the door, she was constantly trying to get back in, she never fell or hit anything, and she was pushing at him the whole time—though she does fall on a step later, walking away. This observation is more about my perception of the time and the event, and someone else could see it differently; like any accident, the events are intriguing in their ambiguity. As details emerge about what happened and what each character knew at what time, it keeps this moral question alive. This would be enough for most films, to ask who is actually at fault. While this question is a major part of the movie, it is a smaller part of the whole situation.

Family dynamics are the heart of what the film is about; even with the intensity of the court case, it is how the case is affecting those around it that matters most. Each character has their perceptions about the incident and the ramifications of what could happen to their families because of it. These complex feelings from everyone mostly keep the events moving, but also at times keep things from advancing. We see so much of the hotheadedness from Hodjat, and from Nader trying to explain himself, that there is some repetition that makes the film slow down at moments.

Nader, who already has issues with his wife, is dealing with his father, who seems even more unwell after the incident and still needs someone to care for him. Nader is even more worried about what this all will do to his daughter. If he is found guilty, he could lose her—but worse than that is his fear of how his daughter might see him as a person. While she obviously loves him and believes him, there is doubt she cannot shake. He sees it in her and it breaks his heart. Simin is worried for her daughter as well, but on a baser level. Her already stated worries about the life her daughter can lead in Iran are compounded by the incident. She is worried more about the way Termeh’s schoolmates are talking and the threatening behavior of Hodjat, and wants to end this no matter what the cost.

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Hodjat feels that his family has been wronged and wonders why this is not obvious to all of society. To him, it is that the higher classes see him and his family as less than people, because they are lower income—society itself is against him. While Razieh also believes she has been wronged, she is more worried about keeping her hot-headed husband out of trouble and keeping their little girl safe. She wants to do the right thing even when the right thing is unclear to her.

Because of where the movie takes place and the current political climate, some have been reluctant to have anything to do with it. It makes little-to-no commentary on Iran politically as a whole (except about a woman’s chances in Iran). It is about people who happen to live in Iran and their lives, and nothing more. What is important is that it tells its story well, with relatable and deep characters. It is in this universality that writer/director Farhari makes us see that life is not that different no matter where you are.

Final Grade: B+


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

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