A SEPARATION (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

Only an imbecile or a mental case would mistake writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s long, involved, moderately involving Jodaeiye Nader az Simin for one of the glories of Iranian cinema, of which there are thrillingly and movingly many; but at least now, at last, an Iranian film has won the foreign-language film Oscar. Indeed, this highly intelligent though uninspired domestic/courtroom drama won a slew of best film prizes for Farhadi, including the Golden Bear at Berlin.*
     The film opens as a couple seeking a divorce face an offscreen judge. Simin wishes to leave the country permanently, for a safer place, with their 11-year-old daughter, Termeh; Nader feels he must stay put, to take care of his elderly father, who lives with them and has Alzheimer’s Disease. However, he feels powerless to bar Simin’s exit for Europe so long as she leaves Termeh behind, with him. From the get-go, we see the reasonableness of both their positions. Two hours of film-time later, the judge is poised to hear, privately, Termeh’s decision of which parent she wishes to live with. Outside in the corridor, her parents wait in suspense, apart.
     This conclusion is easily the most conpelling part of the narrative. (The film ends perfectly.) However, the main event involves the attempt to unravel a mystery: the charge of murder that an employee, who takes care of Nader’s father when Nader is at work, levels against Nader after he pushes her out of the apartment for neglecting and abusing the old man and she suffers a miscarriage. Here, also, the situation is multi-faceted, with each participant seemingly laying equal claim to some degree of victimization. Nader faces years in prison if his accuser and her husband should prevail. Simin attempts to bribe the grieving couple to withdraw the charge against Nader. The whole situation most intriguingly involves Termeh in a fresh contemplation of truth, justice and family loyalty.
     I am not as convinced as are others that Farhadi’s film clarifies critical divisions in contemporary Iranian society, but it is worth noting that Iran has refused to allow its citizens to see this film. Perhaps it would make them feel less isolated to know that the movie has garnered such impressive worldwide acclaim.

* Besides winning the Oscar, the Golden Globe, and France’s César Award as best foreign-language film, as well as the top prize at Berlin, where it also won an ensemble acting award, including for Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter, who plays Termeh, the film was named best foreign-language film by the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and critics’ groups in London, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City and Vancouver. Additionally, Farhadi won for best film, direction and screenplay at the Asian Film Awards, best film at Sydney, and best screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles critics. This is only a partial list of a voluminous host of festival, industry and critics’ prizes.

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