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A Separation - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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Everyday life is about making decisions; decisions that govern one's actions, but for every action there is a reaction. Dilemmas may lead to consequences and lies may lead to truth in the Iranian drama, A Separation.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) and his wife Simin (Leila Hatami) are in a bind. Simin wants to take their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) to the United States on a Student Visa presumably for better opportunity. The Visa, that has been valid for six months, is about to expire, but Nader refuses to move as he is caring for his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

They file for divorce but it is turned down on the grounds of "insufficient reasoning". Simin moves out temporarily, leaving Nader to organise for carers to come and help him with his father during the day when he's at work. When Nader arrives home from work one day to find the maid Razieh (Sareh Bayat) has left him unattended, he becomes increasingly angry with her and forces her out of the apartment where she falls down the stairs. Unbeknownst to Nader, she was pregnant and as a result she has a miscarriage. Now Razieh and her short-tempered husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) demand justice and compensation, but being the very proud man he is, Nader refuses responsibility, setting up a feud of dramatic and spiritual proportion that could ultimately destroy his own family for good.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) file for divorce.

Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi, this incredibly engaging and realistic family drama is so effective in its positioning of the audience. From the very beginning and all the way through, we sympathise with absolutely every character, making it impossible to clearly identify a definitive protagonist and antagonist. A brilliant example of this is the opening scene at the divorce hearing when we are immediately told each parent's side of the story. At the end of the day, we don't necessarily want anyone to win and/or lose: we just want everyone to work it out and get along.

Furthermore, in the opening scene - which is one four-minute take - the camera is placed in the position of the hearing panel, so the actors are delivering their arguments straight to the camera, creating a wonderfully subjective atmosphere right away. All the performances are solid, complementing the very naturalistic tone. Shot with a hand-held docu-drama style with natural lighting, the drama isn't underplayed, but at the same time isn't overly dramatic. With the audience believing the central plot to be the separation (as the title suggests), it actually becomes about the feud with the maid who had the miscarriage, which might puzzle some who might wish the film to focus just on Nader and Simin. Nonetheless, it comes back to tie up the story at the end.

Termeh, the daughter caught in the middle, is played by the Director's own daughter.

At the Academy Awards last week, this film won the award for Best Foreign Language Film and deservedly so. Writer/Director Asghar Farhadi was also nominated for his searing screenplay of a working class family in a dire bind with spirituality, reason, trust and honesty. Having his own daughter play the daughter in the centre of it all exemplifies his passion for the project. She is brilliant also.

Exploring the depths of pride and providing an intimate portrait of a deteriorating situation, A Separation is wonderful in its subjectivity and honesty. Everything about it is so naturalistic that we are to take it at face value – not a lot is hidden from the audience. With confident and controlled performances and a tense and argumentative script, Farhadi holds a mirror up to the life of a working class family in such a private way that although it's set halfway around the world, it could be happening next door.


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Why? An engaging and naturalistic family drama
When: March 1st (Aus)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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