Picking up numerous awards internationally, as well as topping respected critics ‘best of year’ lists in 2011 A Separation is another strikingly human piece of storytelling from Iran. The film begins with a seemingly straightforward dilemma between husband and wife. Nader (Peyman Moadi) wants to stay in Iran to care for his elderly father who suffers from Alzheimer’s, while his wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran to find a better life for their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) abroad.
Director Farhadi’s script becomes more complicated when Nader hires a devoutly religious housemaid called Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after his father, who’s condition is severe. With Nadar away at work and Simin living with her own family the pressure of the situation falls on Razieh’s shoulders, but true to the human nature of the storytelling she has her own problems. After Razieh leaves Nadar’s flat early one day, Nadar returns home to find his father neglected. He becomes angry and when Razieh returns an altercation happens; Nadar may or may not have pushed Razieh down the stairs, as he tried to make her leave his apartment.
It is here that A Separation essentially changes gear from a simple domestic dispute into something much more complex. Razieh is taken to hospital, having suffered a miscarriage. The film becomes a piece of realist filmmaking with a structure like that of a legal drama, or a crime procedural. With Nadar trying to gain information to clear his name, in order to avoid a murder charge and a prison sentence, A Separation becomes utterly gripping viewing. The film probes themes of the law, honour, gender, family and religion.
Initially posing Simin’s essentially female dilemma, the film paints a complex portrait of Iranian society and its Islamic values, while staying true to the human concerns at the heart of the story. When maid Razieh’s unemployed husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) enters the picture, the frustrations that he feels as a man are also brought to the fore, as he cannot fulfil his responsibility to support his wife. He becomes irate and aggressive frequently and wants to use this opportunity to gain in order to support his wife.
As well as trying to avoid a murder conviction Nadar fights to maintain his respectability, with his wife continuously pushing to leave the country. The web of difficulty pushes in on every character, male or female, devout or moderate, young and old. Director Farhadi maintains an immaculately level approach to each character and their storyline. The way he ends the film is the ultimate continuation of this, he consciously decides not to judge his characters.
That A Separation was successful on such an international scale is important, as it portrays a drama that is so human with characters that are so convincing and relatable; it creates a portrait of Iran that is nothing short of necessary viewing for those in the west who understand the country purely on the basis of its political stance with the west. On simple terms though this is a brilliantly true piece of filmmaking, with a story told in such a gripping fashion that it makes many thrillers look lifeless. With its disciplined approach and nuanced script A Separation reminds us that Iranian directors are some of the best storytellers in the world.