A SEPARATION written and directed by Asghar Farhadi (Iran, 2011)

It may be politically sensitive at the moment for the U.S. to acknowledge anything good coming out of Iran, but if there is better foreign language movie to deny A Separation an Oscar then I really would like to see it.

It is common for successful ‘foreign’ movies to be remade in the cinematic lingua franca of English but one of the strengths of Asghar Farhadi’s film is that, while its themes are universal, it is nevertheless imbedded in Iranian culture.

Can you imagine an American actress phoning a religious help line to find out if it is sin to change the soiled clothes of an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s?  Would a Western audience be convinced that swearing upon the holy book would cause such trauma?

Equally, there are not many movies anywhere in the world that would so powerfully raise issues surrounding truth, justice, honour, sin, mercy and guilt.

Nothing in the movie suggests that the Iranian regime is any more repressive than other countries although you can fully understand why an intelligent young woman like Simin would find the theocratic system intolerable.

Women are given a hearing in the legal processes, but since the guiding principles of the law are determined by religious principles one can well imagine that the bias is still towards the male of the species.

While this film is not out to score political points or criticise religious values it does raise moral and ethical dilemmas that pose awkward questions about how social and legal problems are resolved.  You are left with the feeling there is more than one truth and are shown how apparently innocent lies can have grave consequences.

One of the movie’s strengths is that none of the characters are fundamentally bad. They may be driven by self interest but there is no malevolence or cruelty behind what they do. Simin (Leila Hatami) is seeking a divorce from Nadar (Peyman Maadi) yet acknowledges that he is a “good and decent man”. Nothing of what he does calls this into question. He is dedicated to his sick father, supportive to his daughter and his act of violence towards to paid home help Razieh (Sareh Bayat) may have been reckless but is prompted by a justifiable anger at the woman’s negligence. Equally, the rage of Razieh’s husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is understandable .

Farhadi cleverly pulls the audience into the drama by hiding or obscuring crucial facts about the characters leaving us to speculate on the motives for their actions and making it difficult to judge the reliability of their version of events. In so doing he is emphasing that this is not a simple tale of right vs wrong or good vs evil.

The couple’s 11 year old daughter Termeh  (played by the director’s daughter Sarina) is caught in the centre of her parent’s separation. “You said it’s not serious” she says to her father; “It got serious” he replies. The bold ending leaves her future open to question. ‘What would you do in her place’, Farhedi seems to be asking?

A brilliant movie.

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