Directed by Ashgar Farhadi
The film’s original title is The Separation of Nader from Simin. And while I can see the point of this self-consciously humble variant (for in the end, this really is a simple enough tale of one separation), I would insist that the indefinite article makes a lot more sense. It’s a separation. In Iran or elsewhere – it’s the same thing. It’s universal. And the point screenwriter and director Ashgar Farhadi makes – it is all about responsibility.
There are two things that should perhaps slightly alert you prior to watching this film. One, A Separation won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival. Two, A Separation is, yes, an Iranian film. Put those two together and you might expect a murky, desperate tale of Iranians striving for freedom and democracy under the current bloody regime. The truth is, it’s nothing of the kind. Sure, politics does lurk in the background of this film, but its presence is inconspicuous and secondary. A story like this could happen anywhere.
The story deals with one Iranian family on the verge of separation. It’s a well-off, middle-class sort of family, but Simin wants to leave Iran, and Nader (whose father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease) wants to stay. There’s also their eleven-year old daughter, Termeh. All she wishes is of course for her parents to be together. In a perverted, but completely natural way, that’s what both Simin and Nader want too. But trapped by conventions and principles – they have to separate, and Simin moves away to live with her parents. Feeling it’s the only way to make sure that everything might get back to normal some day, Termeh stays with her father.
But the separation has already started giving crack and creaks to the whole thing, and when Nader hires Razieh, a pregnant, religious woman from one of Tehran’s poor suburbs to look after his father, disaster ensues. Not just one disaster – a whole series of calamitous consequences. A nightmare with no end – bringing out the worst in the world and people Termeh loves. She is learning about just how this world functions, and it gets increasingly frustrating.
Mentally, emotionally, this is devastating stuff. Farhadi raises numerous issues, from religion to law to class divisions, but as the film comes to its close, and when it looks like everything is more or less resolved, we return to where we started. The divorce, and the question of responsibility that seems so unbearable to Termeh’s parents. Honestly, the film’s final scenes have got to be seen to be believed. Termeh’s face, bruised with premature experience and strange, inexplicable and almost revengeful half-smile; her subdued parents quietly, guiltily leaving the court room (as if it were a school classroom) and waiting in the hallway. It’s one of the most tense and powerful episodes I’ve ever seen.
So when it came to choosing my favourite film of last year, well, I have to say that this was easy. A Separation was so clearly 2011’s best, in every possible way, that I didn’t have to think twice. It’s bursting with life, it’s got unforgettable acting, it features a plot that entangles you like the best thriller... Quite simply, A Separation has all I need from cinema. And more.