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A Brilliant Human Drama,
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This review is from: A Separation [DVD] (DVD)
Iranian Asghar Farhadi's highly acclaimed film is an intensely emotional and human drama set in modern day Tehran. Of course, whilst Iranian cinema has over the years achieved a good deal of cinematic notoriety with numerous film festival accolades, it is also good to see wider audience recognition for the country's film output, particularly in the light of the recent oppression of some of Iran's leading film-makers (Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf). In relation to A Separation, it is interesting to note that, whilst the studied nature of the film is perhaps typical of other Iranian directors such as Panahi and the early films of Abbas Kiarostami, Farhadi's essentially domestic tale of family and class conflict (albeit with the overriding presence of strict religious observance) could easily be transferred to apply to many cultures and nationalities.
Shot in (at times) semi-documentary style using hand held cameras, and with no musical score (save for the exquisite theme played over the closing credits), A Separation tells the heart-rending story of a couple's (husband Nader and wife Simin) pending divorce, and its impact on their immediate family, in particular a lone daughter and the husband's live-in father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Following Simin's leaving home, Nader is forced to employ a female carer for his father and a tragic set of events lead to the carer and her husband becoming embroiled with Nader and Simin (who represent a higher class in Iranian society) in a series of potential criminal prosecutions. The relatively slow pace of Farhadi's film is, therefore, rather deceptive and instead the audience becomes captivated by what is a brilliantly compelling and insightful tale of family duty, pride, confused loyalty, guilt and class frictions. Farhadi's film is peppered with nice (and often progressive) observational touches, such as Nader and Simin's use of an electric dishwasher (dispelling western audiences' misplaced views of Iranian society) and the (altogether more serious) treatment of an Alzheimer's sufferer. In terms of other film-makers, Farhadi's film is for me reminiscent of the works of the Dardennes brothers (subject-wise) and Michael Haneke (style-wise).
Acting wise, the film is virtually faultless, but particular mention should go to Peyman Moaadi as the stubborn and belligerent Nader, whose devotion to his family (father, daughter, wife) leads him down an increasingly shady path, Leila Hatami as Nader's equally combative wife Simin, and to their two adversaries, Shahab Hosseini as the increasingly volatile (and disadvantaged) husband Hodjat and Sareh Bayat as Hodjat's retiring and subservient wife, Razieh.
Farhadi is particularly careful not to explicitly judge any of his characters, but rather to present their own points of view (largely) sympathetically. A Separation therefore provides the audience with no easy resolutions, an approach which is exemplified in the film's brilliant concluding sequence as Nader and Simin return to their divorce judge and prepare to learn which of them is to have custody of their daughter.