A Separation at first seems like its about, well, a separation of a couple. It is about that – but there is so much more to this Iranian Drama that has managed to take the world by storm. What this film is about is religion, status, children, morals, human behaviour and the law. When I first saw this film, it took hours before I stopped thinking about it (especially the last scene) because it’s just so damned powerful. Asghar Farhadi has challenged the stereotypes of theocratic Iran, and shown his characters in an empathetic light, showing life’s problems aren’t particular to one group of people, but to everyone, regardless of status. This film really makes you think.
A contemporary tale of contemporary situations, A Separation is about a couple who are set to separate, because Simin (Leila Hatami), the wife, wants to leave Iran with her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Her husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi) wants to stay behind and look after his father, who has Alzheimers disease. Nader had promised Simin that after they got their Visa’s they would leave the country, but after attaining them Nader refused to go. Termeh decides to stay with her father in Iran and Simin leaves to live with her parents nearby. Without his wife to look after his father, Nader hires an untrained, pregnant woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) who needs the money for her in-debt husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini). One day Razieh leaves the house for 30 minutes, leaving Nader’s father alone in his room, without care. Nader comes home and finds his father on the floor with his wrists tied by rope to his bed, and helps him into bed and makes sure he’s okay. Razieh comes back soon afterwards and Nader confronts her about what she’s done. They end up arguing and there is a little scuffle where Nader pushes her out of his house and accidentally down the stairs. He later learns that she has had a miscarriage and he’s been accused of manslaughter. This causes a chain of events to occur, which affect more than one family in devastating ways.
Nader and Simin are seemingly happy together, and Simin only wants a divorce so she can leave with her daughter out of Iran. However, Termeh stays with her father to try and keep them together – soon Nader and Simin are arguing about what to do. Razieh and Hodjat’s relationship is strained because even though he loves her, he expresses an almost authoritative power over her. Their daughter Somayeh can see this strain in their relationship. Both Termeh and Somayeh can see this fault in their parent’s relationship, but can’t do anything about it. It’s a painful but emotionally resonant story which should hit a chord with everyone with a heart.
All the performances are powerful and believable, and all the actions the characters take are understandable. It plays out almost as if it’s really happening: it isn’t indulgent or over the top in anyway. The children look properly afraid and the parents even more afraid. From Nader’s love for a father who doesn’t even remember him to Termeh’s almost hopeless attempt to keep her parents together, its an authentic portrait of two families struggle.
Religion plays a large role in A Seperation as well. Iran is very much a theocratic country and as much as everyone tries to live under its laws, they can’t help but be doubtful – as faithful as they are – about their religion. When Nader’s father soils his pants, Razieh is unsure about whether to change his pants, because it is a sin. Showing sins of distress, her daughter Somayeh says “I won’t tell Dad”. Complex moral decisions make up a large theme of the film that screams “This is the right thing to do!” whilst your emotions say “It’s completely wrong!”
A singular review cannot sum up how effective this film is in representing modern Iran and the “small” problems that happen. It’s emotionally provocative, morally complicated, boasts strong performances and is one of the most authentic films I have seen in a long time. If this film doesn’t leave you perplexed for at least a few hours, then you need to watch it again.