Another powerful and excellent film from Iran, this one from writer/director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation tells the story of a few traumatic days in the life of an urban middle-class Iranian family. The wife/mother (Simin, played by Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country and just spent six months obtaining the necessary visa. Her husband (Nader, played by Peyman Moadi) wants to stay with his father, who has Alzheimer’s and is unable to take care of himself, so Simin files for a divorce. Complicating things is an eleven-year-old daughter whom both parents want to stay with them. Simin moves out, forcing Nader to hire a caregiver (Razieh, played by Sareh Bayat) to look after his father. But Razieh has secrets, secrets that lead to an altercation with unfortunate consequences for all concerned.
What makes A Separation such a great (if gut-wrenching) film is the superb insight and empathy Farhadi shows toward each of the five primary characters involved (the fifth is Razieh’s husband). Each of these people is trying to live a good life under Islam and each of them is in a traumatic situation even before the film starts. The result is that when the altercation mentioned above forces them all in front of a judge (well-played by Babak Karimi), most of them are forced to tell lies to protect themselves and their families. Would things have worked out better if they had all stuck with the truth? Would we have told the same lies?
The acting in A Separation is very good, with a particularly outstanding performance by Moadi, whose actions and lies lie at the core of the film. All of the characters are believable and we can identify with each of their choices even if we disagree with them or find them infuriating. I desperately wanted the characters to find a way forward, to find a resolution to a situation which gets out of hand so quickly, even with a fair-minded judge. But no clear resolutions are on offer.
A Separation is about life in modern-day Iran, but it’s about human life everywhere. It’s a great discussion film and gets an easy ****. My mug is up! However, A Separation is not, in my opinion, as good as Monsieur Lazhar and thus does not quite deserve its Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.