A Separation (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)


film separation_smYou’ll be hard pressed to find a more engrossing, dramatic portrayal of how annoying it often is to be alive.




film separation

You know how on just about any given day of your life there’s a constant buildup of bullshit and petty frustration that seems like it might undo you at some point? While everyone experiences this, it’s the type of unsexy subject you don’t often see in films, and when you do it rarely mirrors the way it feels in real life. And while it might not sound like a ringing endorsement when I say that the new Iranian film A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, successfully captures this quirk of being a human being, trust me that it is. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more engrossing, dramatic portrayal of how annoying it often is to be alive.

In synopsis, it might not sound as universal as the story actually is. A Separation concerns young parents Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Maadi) who, while not unhappy together, get the titular separation on account of not being able to agree on whether or not they should move out of Iran. Simin wants to go and take their daughter Termeh (played by the director’s daughter Sarina Farhadi; don’t worry, she’s good—this isn’t a Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III-type situation), but Nader wants and needs to stay to care for his Alzheimer’s-ridden father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). Both Simin and Nader are reasonable people (with Termeh perhaps being more reasonable still), and under Farhadi’s hand you can see both sides of the argument lucidly.

Beyond that, Simin and Nader’s family is relatively upstanding and well-off; Nader works in a bank and needs someone to care for his father during the day. He hires a less well-off woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for him, but she quickly proves unwilling and/or unable to competently do the job, though she needs it desperately as her family is in a bit of financial trouble. As it turns out, she also hadn’t told her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) that she took the job, and she suggests him to Nader to replace her in the position. But before any of this can happen, Nader discovers just the level of incompetence Razieh brings to the job, and something of a fight ensues between the two families for the rest of the picture. Like the initial separation between Simin and Nader, Farhadi never loses sight of making all of the main characters credible, sympathetic people with logical motivations, even as their circumstances turn more and more unbearable.

By now you’ve probably heard a fair amount about this film, as it seemingly came out of nowhere, then crashed a great deal of film critics’ top ten lists last year (including my own) and won a ton of end of the year film critics’ circle prizes. Then of course it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, will surely win the Oscar for the same, and was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay, marking the first time that an Iranian film has been up for a writing Oscar. None of this praise is overstated, as A Separation feels like one of those timeless films that people are still going to be seeing, talking about, and thinking about decades from now. It’s rare that you find a film so effortlessly dramatic and engrossing, and rarer still to find one as human as this. | Pete Timmermann

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