DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
A SEPARATION (JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN) (director/writer: Asghar Farhadi; cinematographer: Mahmood Kalari; editor: Hayedeh Safiyari; music: Sattar Oraki; cast: Leila Hatami (Simin), Peyman Moadi (Nader), Shahab Hosseini (Hodjat), Sareh Bayat (Razieh), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Babak Karimi (Judge), Ali-Asghar Shahbazi (Nader’s Father), Shirin Yazdanbakhsh (Simin’s Mother), Kimia Hosseini (Somayeh), Merila Zarei (Ms. Ghahraei), Sahabanu Zolghadr (Azam); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Asghar Farhadi; Sony Pictures Classics; 2011-Iran-in Persian with English subtitles)

"Offers an unwritten ending that must be decided by each viewer."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

It won in 2011 The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Iran bragged it beat out the Israeli film Footnote for that honor, but then the government censors banned the film in Iran. The suspenseful courtroom drama takes place during the course of a few weeks and is set in contemporary Tehran. Asghar Farhadi ("Beautiful City"/"About Elly"/"Dancing in the Dust") keeps it realistic, provocative and urgent, and wants the viewer to judge for themselves what is important and what is the right decision to make to a twisty domestic problem as he offers an unwritten ending that must be decided by each viewer.

An argumentative middle-class thirtysomething couple, who never raise their voices even when arguing, the decent but obstinate Nader (Peyman Moadi) and his headstrong wife Simin (Leila Hatami), are in divorce court, with the conflicted Simin telling the judge she wants a divorce in order to live abroad and thereby provide her 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director's daughter) a better life. But her bank clerk husband doesn't want to move, even though he's willing to grant a divorce. Termeh doesn't want to live in another country or for her parents to separate and chooses to live with dad, while mom returns home to live with her parents after the judge turns down her divorce request by saying "Your problem is a small problem."

Nader is caretaker to his live-in elderly feeble father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Without his wife to care for his helpless dad, Nader must hire someone to look after him while he works. Nader hires, for as little money possible, the needy anxious unqualified lower-class devoutly religious pregnant married woman Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who lives on the outskirts of Tehran and desperately needs the money because her volatile unemployed husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) has been in and out of jail in recent times because he owes money to creditors. Razieh is so desperate that she takes the job without asking permission from her husband and then has second thoughts when realizing it goes against her religious beliefs to change a man's pants after he soils himself. Razieh brings her curious 4-year-old daughter (Kimia Hosseini) to work to keep her company. On the third day Nazer comes home early and finds his father lying unconscious on the floor with his wrists tied by rope to the bed. Razieh returns from an errand and when she can't explain her actions, an angry Nader fires her, accuses her of stealing money without proof and shoves her out the door when she refuses to leave without her pay. It's later discovered that Razieh fell down the building stairs and winds up having a miscarriage in the hospital. This hire proves to be a mistake that results in a life changing experience for Nader and his family, as a solo judge (who acts as prosecutor, jury and dispenser of the punishment) tries Nader for murder--a serious charge that could result in a one to three year jail sentence.

The ensuing action results in class warfare between the two opposing families, each protecting their self-interest. Both women, the meek one and the pushy one, are both at odds with their rigid husbands while refusing to give up their core beliefs in being either pious or pragmatic to compromise with their inflexible husbands. The only innocents or characters the audience can sympathize with are the two sweet children, who see more clearly than their parents what's going down but can only helplessly (like Nader's senile old man) watch as outsiders their parents foolishly battle with each other. They all have their valid reasons for doing what they are doing, but this director is not willing to judge anyone nor is he willing to take sides. Instead he allows the viewer to reach their own conclusions about what is right or wrong. What the director is willing to do is let us have a peek at the social complexities in modern-day Iran, where there's a deep divide over religion, class, the legal system, and on questions of morality. Iran has become a country, if we believe this film, that has no room for gray as everything is viewed as either black or white. It ends with the couple divorcing and their daughter deciding who she will live with, thereby the title. But we never learn which parent she chooses.

A Separation makes for a compelling offbeat detective story that investigates the interactions of ordinary Iranian citizens fighting for their self-interests in a legal system that is rigged against them. It's a flawed authoritarian legal system that almost forces the accused to not
always be forthright if they want to stay out of jail. Farhadi takes us into everyday life in Tehran and shows us the strains on families in their daily life, even on those living a prosperous life and driving cars, and how even a small incident can have big repercussions for either a middle-class family, thinking of itself as privileged, or a marginalized lower-class family who trust only God and not the legal system to give them a fair break. 

REVIEWED ON 4/2/2012       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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