tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #13 A Separation
February 11, 2012, 10:41 PM
Filed under: film | Tags: , , , ,

I hadn’t heard of A Separation until seemingly out of nowhere it started sweeping all the Critics’ Circle awards for Best Foreign Film. It’s a film that addresses the political through the personal and it’s especially poignant coming out of Iran in 2011, with Jafar Panahi sitting in an Iranian prison. One would wonder how much that played into its reception if it wasn’t such a remarkable film in its own right. Examining how, as Panahi learned, in an unforgiving culture the slightest perceived misstep can have life-altering consequences.

Focusing on the dissolution of a marriage between characters portrayed by Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami, A Separation initially appears to be a gripping domestic drama. We start getting hints that there is something more going on, hints the audience will be asked to recall in detail later on, and the film suddenly transforms into something significantly more grave and incisive. Director Asghar Farhadi wisely sits back and lets the actors do their work, utilizing long reserved takes and using the doorways and partitions in their apartment to generate a feeling of surveillance, further commenting on Iranian society.

The writing is similarly restrained. Focusing in on the personal drama and letting the viewer come to the political on their own. It requires a great deal of talent but it’s something many American dramas could learn from, often being lessened by the overt political aspects of films like Syriana and The Ides of March. Gently guiding the audience to their own conclusions is a more effective, and memorable, way of making a point, and getting there via character creates a sense of personal involvement that is often absent in films with such aims. This approach gives the second half of the film an immense amount of weight. Leading to an ending that, in a year of several half-baked ambiguous endings, feels completely earned and appropriate.


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A Separation should be seen as an Iranian movie made under ‘Iranian circumstances’ as Simin would have put it. So, do not be surprised if you read below how most Iranians woud interpret hidden metaphors in the movie.

In the opening scene, Nader says he does not want to leave Iran for many reasons and when challenged by Simin to name one, he mentions his father’s need for care and sympathy in the state he is in. To Simin this seems like an excuse. Nader, a man whose honesty and integrity is confirmed, should be seeking a better future for his family in the West, rather than stay behind, helping a father whose situation is hopeless because of Alzheimer’s. Then, as the argument builds up, we finally hear loud and clear the ‘Two World Views’ :
Simin (Modern, pragmatic)- Does your father any longer know you are his son?
Nader (Patriotic, principled)- But I know he is my father!
The sick father, who no longer knows him but needs his love, his care and his protection so dearly and cannot be left behind in such a state, is of course IRAN! And of course, responsibility always falls on the side who knows.
This interpretation is confirmed when Nader accuses Simin, in a later scene, that she has always been weak and tried to escape when conditions get tough, whereas one has to stand up and face the challenges ahead,………….economic sanctions or worse!

Comment by Baddu

thanks so much for that comment, i found it very enlightening.

Comment by justin

Thanks for considering my comment as helpful. It is a fact that this extraordinary movie would be best appreciated by most western viewers if we do not wrap another layer of meaning around its already complex screenplay. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to elaborate further what I have already provoked.
To be sure there is more to this metaphor. Hodjat represents the hard-liners, who zealously consider themselves the sole proprietor of religion, morality and patriotism. This ‘gives’ them the right to seek domination over others – even if this entails the use of force against anyone standing in their way, be it the traditional secular patriots (Nader), or their modern cosmopolitan counterparts (Simin) or even the silent but sincere traditional believers (Razieh). Bending morality or even religious codes (expecting Razieh to swear on the Koran against her better judgment) for material gain is allowed because God is on their side anyway, no matter what! All this, while their country deserves everyone’s concerted effort to navigate through internal as well as external obstacles.
But here comes something very important that Farhadi needs to say, and says it beautifully: that, not only Razieh and Simin, but even Nader will not hesitate to come to Hodjat’s help if he comes under serious external threat (Nader comes to hodjat’s defence when the magistrate threatens Hodjat with imprisonment). But then, this is what congressman Ron Paul has been telling his people all along, only if they would listen!

Comment by Baddu

Wow! Great thikning! JK

Comment by Eve

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