A Separation

Year: 2011
Production Co: Asghar Farhadi Productions
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Payman Maadil, Leila Hatami, Sarah Bayat, Sarina Farhadi

The only thing I can attribute all the critical love about this film to is because it highlights a peculiarity of life in a modern Muslim country – the fact that a man's wishes and authority in the microcosm of his family are unchallenged.

That's the case when Nader (Payam Madi) is told by his wife Simin (Leila Hatami) that she wants them and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) to leave Iran. With a job and an Alzheimer's afflicted father Nader has no intention of it, and Termeh will stay with him even if Simin wants to move away.

But just when you think the story's going to be about a monstrous man empowered and legitimised into cruelty and maybe even brutality to the women in his family by the society he lives in, it's about something quite different. Despite his refusal to even entertain Simin's plan and his constant scowl, Nader seems to be a sensitive and loving father and a decent husband, never acting with threat or violence to Simin or their daughter.

The separation of the title is merely the backdrop. The story itself reveals itself when Nader interviews and hires a pregnant local woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after his father while he's at work now Simin's moved out.

Razieh seems less than qualified, soon overwhelmed by looking after Nader's father, and when he returns from work one day to find the old man unconscious and tied to the bed he's outraged. Worse still, there's money missing that he assumes Razieh has stolen. When she returns he confronts her and orders her out. Razieh tries to argue her innocence, refusing to leave, and when Nader angrily pushes her away from the door of their apartment she falls in the stairwell outside, her injuries causing her to miscarry.

The case goes to court, which in Iranian civil law seems to be a bored looking clerk sitting in a dingy office interviewing the disputing parties while he'd rather be anywhere else. Razieh's hot tempered husband gets involved, crossed words are shouted and fingers pointed, and I thought it descended into something of a melodramatic potboiler.

Like Lebanon-set Caramel, A Separation was interesting because it's novel to see a 'normal' story in a part of the world where we in the West expect it to crumble into familial or political violence. It's worth seeing simply to appreciate a slice of life in a place that looks authentic but which is quite alien to most of us who watch movies.

But transplant the whole thing to a city and family in Southampton, Boise, Zurich or Melbourne and there's not a real lot in the story itself to to recommend it.

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