Iranian cinema shines again with “Nader and Simin: A separation”

Get ready for the Iranian hurricane.

“Nader and Simin: A Separation” has been riding on a wave of positive buzz ever since Smackdown in Berlin Persian-style–“Separation” won for Best Movie and Best Actor, male and female, at the last Berlinale Festival. It was quite the coup.

This second film by director Asghar Farhadi (pictured, below right), whose 2009 film “About Elly” already received widespread attention, has been leading the box-office in France. Parisians have been lining up and many of the screenings have required advance reservations to guarantee seating. Not bad for an axis of evil country. With decent marketing here, the same response should be anticipated even though this movie will likely only play to New York and L.A.

Why so much eagerness about it? Because “Separation” has been doing exceptionally well with the critics. Le Monde called it “excellent” and La Croix said the movie was “breathtaking” and “fascinating.” And that’s just a sampling of the praise that the film has been showered with.

The story in brief: a couple is separating, their young daughter and the husband’s live-in elderly dad stuck in the middle. A cleaning lady is hired—she’s asked to do double-duty as medical aide—but her negligent behavior causes a major breach of trust. Simmering hostilities between her and her employer will eventually lead to the courtroom.

While clearly being an efficient storyteller Farhadi hasn’t reinvented the wheel of filmmaking. And yet “Separation” will sell you on the performances of its actors.

The more I watched Peyman Moaadi (Nader) and Leila Hatami (Simin), in all her strangely poised misery, I kept telling myself: no wonder both got best actor nods. And Moaadi especially: throughout the course of “Separation,” which runs over two hours, his Nader character goes from mildly resentful to vanquished, a broken shell of a man but one who somehow keeps fighting, for his freedom, for his daughter, for his life. What made his performance is that the acting was restrained; you could barely see what was going on around him on his face—it was just so. A resounding performance which has revealed a naturally-gifted actor.