A Separation – Asghar Farhadi (2011)
Moving towards Turkey’s southern border, the next film featuring in my Asian stretch is Iranian. I’ve had Iranian films sitting on my watchlist on Letterboxd for quite some time and I’ve heard endlessly that the country has produced some really good cinema but I’d only gotten round to seeing Persepolis (which I loved so much and would recommend watching because it’s so fun and I knew next to nothing about Iran/its revolution when I saw it) and guess what!!?? Turns out, once again it’s FRENCH. Damn it France. Alas, I’ve finally gotten round to seeing another, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. Although I watched this film (and every other I’ve reviewed so far) a while ago during the Christmas break, it has accidentally become somewhat relevant and topical of recent. If you didn’t already know (where have you been) Iran is one of the 7 Muslim countries effected by Trump’s travel ban, meaning that Iranian citizens such as this film’s director Asghar Farhadi are temporarily banned from entering the US. Farhadi is actually nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars (again, A Separation winning in 2011) at the end of the month and so I’ve been multiple articles surfacing about the ridiculousness of him maybe being refused entrance, should Trump’s ban go uncontested.
So anyway, the film is, as the title suggests, about a separation a very complex one at that. The opening scene shows Simin and her husband Nader in the court discussing their reasons for divorce. We learn that Simin wants to move to Europe to escape the tensions in the middle east and provide better opportunities for their daughter Termeh, whereas Nader argues that it is not possible for him to abandon his elderly father who has Alzhimers. Arguing each point of view seems to get them nowhere and, unable to convince each other, they sign the divorce papers and Simin promptly packs her bags to leave. As she is no longer around whilst Nader is working, he has to arrange for someone to come in and look after his father, who can no longer speak or look after himself. From this point everything spirals out of control for Nader and his family in a melodramatic stage-play-esque tragic fashion. There are angry confrontations and an abundance of unsolved mysteries as the family attempt to hold their daily lives together.
For me, characters are what Farhadi does best, his characters are complex and incredibly human, struggling in ways that mean we as an audience cannot help but respond to with empathy. Nader represents the emotional bond between father and son as he refuses to let go of his confused parent that no longer knows him. Simin is headstrong and determined to escape and do what is right for her daughter and her family. Once a happy, passionate learner, Termeh enters emotional turmoil about the divorce of her parents and the lies she has to tell to defend her father. And Razieh is torn between the desperate need to support her family and staying faithful to her Islamic religion. Every character is suffer very human issues, inviting the audience to empathise with each one and not to take sides. This, I imagine is what I’ve often heard described about the humanity of Farhadi’s writing.
I also think that it’s important that the film gained the worldwide recognition that it did, as our media is pretty saturated with negative representations of the middle east (specifically so this past year) and even though most of us will realise they are bullshit, it’s important to see accurate representations, free from political leanings. The film shows a modern Iranian family, both parents work and are ambitious and have high hopes for their intelligent young daughter. It’s difficult not to empathise with or relate to these characters no matter what you believe.
If you’d like to know more about the super cool person that is Asghar Farhadi: here is a great interview in which he talks about ‘A Separation’, the limitations of filmmaking in Iran and lots of other interesting stuff.
Also the trailer for Persepolis cos it’s amazin