In every given year, a film seemingly emerges out of nowhere to complicate our notions of contemporary cinema and to remind us of the significance of the art form. Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi’s “A Separation” is 2011’s singular achievement.
The film focuses on two families—one secular, one religious—who argue over a series of misunderstandings. As Farhadi’s complicated yarn unfolds, he reveals pieces of information about the characters through which he tackles many issues that plague contemporary Iran.
Farhadi uses the clash of two families to demonstrate the disconnect between the secular and the religious. According to Farhadi’s vision, both the secular and the religious are well intended, but they are also stubbornly one-sided, and their refusal to compromise stifles all communication and bears dangerous repercussions. It is as if they are living on two separate planets.
That, I believe, is what “A Separation” is really about, but because Farhadi’s film is so masterful, these issues are hidden underneath the surface of a domestic drama.
As the film opens, a married couple, Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), explain the circumstances of their marriage before an Iranian judge. Simin wants to leave Iran and create a better life for her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), in Europe, but Nader wants to stay behind to care for his father (Ali-Asghar Shabazi), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
Who is right? It doesn’t matter. They both have a point, but as Farhadi suggests, righteousness is irrelevant, and what truly matters is practicality.
The film ends and the audience exits the theater after Farhadi’s camera lingers on a final shot of quiet chaos. Certain questions, however, linger in their minds. How do the secular and the religious co-exist? How do men deal with the descent of their privilege? What about the rise of women’s rights? What will ultimately become of Iran?
I think that human beings are wired to question the state of things. Artists, then, may bring about these questions in hopes that one day someone will find the answers.
I can’t say that I’ve found the answers to Mr. Farhadi’s questions, but I’m glad that he has the courage to ask them.
“A Separation” is currently playing in New York City and will expand to more theaters in the subsequent weeks. Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate this film for Best Picture, it did win the Academy award for Best Foreign Film.