Friday, January 27, 2012
A SEPARATION (2011)
Writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s riveting Iranian melodrama opens with husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) and wife Simin (Leila Hatami) pleading their case to an unseen judge (from whose point of view we watch the entire scene). Simin has filed for divorce because she believes the family should move abroad to provide more opportunities for daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) and Nader refuses because he must care for his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The two snipe at each other, childish in their respective intransigence, so we commiserate with the judge when he dismisses the case due to a lack of seriousness. Simin moves out, so Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for his father. Razieh, a devout Muslim and four months pregnant, needs the job to help her hotheaded husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) pay his debts. Nader and Termeh arrive home one afternoon to find the old man tied to his bed and money missing, so Nader presumes the worst. Razieh returns and vehemently denies that she stole, but Nader throws her out. She collapses on the stairway and lands in hospital. After Razieh miscarries, legal recriminations fly, throwing both households into further turmoil. Farhadi elicits uniformly strong performances from his exceptional cast, and his generous script remains empathetic while refusing to excuse. As we come to identify with a character Farhadi upends our expectations, and we question our allegiance. His scenes feel messy, random, true to life. We are never quite sure where the film is going and subsequently never feel settled. By the time the film reaches its heartbreaking conclusion, however, Farhadi’s method becomes apparent. We are back in the judge’s chamber from the first scene, and we no longer find the situation lacking in seriousness. The overlooked Termeh provides our point of view now. The stunning final shot matches the first. In it Nader and Simin sit facing but not looking at each other. This time they are silent. Farhadi’s film about the ties that bind and unravel is a compassionate wonder.