Though “A Separation” has just reached the Tampa Bay area, riding off its recent Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film, any moviegoers catching it now will be seeing, arguably, the best film of last year.
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has struck gold with his fifth feature, hitting every single mark of what constitutes a great film. With a script rich with observations on Iranian society and human shortcomings, a nerve-wracking and devastating emotional tone and great acting and cinematography, “A Separation” has all the components of an incredible cinematic offering.
The film follows Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), a couple who consider divorce because they cannot agree on whether to leave Iran. Simin wants to raise their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) in a better place, while Nader feels like he must stay to care for his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
After Simin leaves, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for his father while he is at work. Though the arrangement works out well enough at first, the two eventually fight and Nader pushes the protesting housekeeper out of his doorway. When Razieh then falls down the stairs and has a miscarriage, legal questions arise about Nader’s complicity or whether he is guilty of murder.
This may not seem like the most action-packed movie plot, but Farhadi imbues this scenario with an unbearable tension that perhaps only matched by “Breaking Bad” in the pop-culture world. The film also shares with that television show a deep understanding of the emotional damage parents’ conflicts can inflict on their children, and how small bad decisions can slowly add up to a catastrophic payoff.
The film plays out like a car accident pile-up, with misunderstandings, refusals and bad decisions accumulating in the struggle between Nader and Razieh and her husband. The movie heartbreakingly shows several instances where the film’s conclusion could be averted if the characters, unwavering in their choices, merely relented and compromised for once.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Moadi standing out for his portrayal of a rational man who is immovably insistent on the idea of his own rationalism. Though his performance may not necessarily be showy, that is merely because Moadi has characterized Nader so well that it seems entirely natural.
Bayat is also terrific as the devout and doubtful Razieh, as is Shahab Hosseini as her frightening, hot-tempered husband. And doing away with any possible claims of nepotism, Farhadi’s own daughter Sarina is arresting as the teenage daughter caught between fighting parents, turning in an absolutely true-to-life performance where so many before have been unconvincingly cloying.
When “A Separation” won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, the Iranian film briefly gained mass attention – potentially because of the political implications of it beating the Israeli film “Footnote.”
In his acceptance speech, Farhadi addressed the film and politics, saying: “At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”
Indeed, one of the most potent political statements “A Separation” makes is its mere existence as a prominent Iranian film. When the Iranian government has arrested and banned director Jafar Panahi from making movies – forcing him to smuggle his latest film through a birthday cake – a great and critical Iranian movie winning an Oscar is a milestone.
However, the film also has plenty of criticism directed toward Iran’s legal system. It is overly tied to religion and uncaring in its execution, as the film’s judge callously stirs sugar into his tea and takes bond money from the charges lobbied against each other by both sides.
All in all, “A Separation” is that rare perfect combination of great directing, writing, acting, filming and meaning that only comes every so often in a movie and denotes a classic. Film aficionados should be sure to catch the movie during its likely brief stint in theaters.
“A Separation” is now showing at AMC Woodlands Square 20 and Muvico Baywalk 20.