Glimpses into the real day-to-day struggles of Arabic families and individuals are sparse. This elegant and thought-provoking cinema contains characters that refuse to be defined by “good” and “bad” descriptors. Audience members faced with the challenge to move with all players without allegiance signifies that a masterpiece has unfolded.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi connects universal situations that echo beyond the religious and societal differences in Iran versus practice in most Western civilizations. A Separation introduces two seated people, one female and the other male. A man speaking off camera has the lens point of view. Expectations about a domestic quarrel seems inline except Farhadi introduces a twist with the husband expressing no rage or desire to end the marriage, but the tension resides in the fate of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). His wife Simon (Leila Hatami) wants to emigrate to America with her for access to opportunities and entry to an environment more beneficial for women’s agency than permitted in the current state of Iran. Nader (Peyman Moadi) counters that Termeh’s life is full here with her family. He pointedly mentions her Alzheimer’s stricken grandfather. Since Nader will not consent to Termeh’s departure, the arbiter sided with Nader’s preference because male authority is unquestionable.
Unspoken pain and arguments stifle the rather large apartment. Nader’s father is a human shell due to the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s. Suffering spills out to all those in the family, and those moments of care and confusion imprison the family. Aging parents affect and afflict itself on everyone no matter the culture or country. Cinema has addressed this situation delicately and fairly in films such as Away from Her (2006) and more sentimentality mainstream with The Notebook (2004). Farhadi places this aging matter with additional issues that mimic how life often pummels in unison. A couple’s separation does not occur in isolation. Mired in difficulties, the family unit’s sense of stability unravels when an underpaid maid/accidental caretaker Razieh (Sareh Bayat) incurs a horrible medical injury. Class disparity bubbles through with accusations levied against each party in court. No matter the wealth, daughters from each family are the by-standing victims and forced to challenge their own loyalty and entrenched moral codes. As voyeurs to their fates, the children are exposed to scenes that will have undoubtedly imprinted and altered innocence their respective parents tried to sustain. No one is a hero. Audiences float among the characters unsure not anchored by any one which evinces the profundity Farhadi imparted to his narrative and players.
Farhadi’s graceful insight and gradual revelation to reality unfolds marvelously. To avoid explicating the plot, I identify one specific moment that signifies the depths Farhadi created. How the filmmaker decides to close the film communicates an agreement of what the director envisions and how it translated to the audience. Farhadi timed his concluding visual just as I hoped with Simon and Nader separated by a half-opened glass, cloudy partition outside a courtroom. Interestingly, his ending juxtaposed with another Film Forum pick of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was curatorially savvy. The camera keeps rolling in both as credits unwind. Earning top honors with the Best Foreign language film at the 2012 Oscars, this film needs little help in demonstrating merit and excellence.