A Separation

Iran's entry for best foreign film at the Oscars
Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Nader and Simin: A Separation by Asghar Farhadi is the Iran-made candidate for Best Foreign Picture at the Academy Awards. Not only is it a superb film with nary a wasted shot, but actors Leila Hatami and Peyman Maadi (they won the Best Actor awards at the last Berlin Film Festival) give three-dimensional, wholly believable performances as the two sides of an acrimonious couple going through a sloppy divorce.

The separation itself is somewhat of a MacGuffin and does little more than set all the pieces in motion. The most we hear about marital disputes is in the tense opening scene, a single static shot that shows the spouses pleading their cases, from the perspective of the marriage clerk’s desk. Simin explains that she wants to take their eleven-year-old daughter to study and live abroad. Nader insists on staying behind to tend to his Alzheimer-afflicted father.

When Simin moves out and goes to live with her mother, waiting for the divorce to be finalized, Nader hires a poor, pregnant woman, Razieh, to care for his father. The work––which included washing the incontinent old man––proves too much for the devout woman and one afternoon Razieh leaves the ailing father alone in the house, tied to his bed. When the abuse it discovered, Nader throws the woman out of his house violently. The next day Razieh miscarries and blames Nader, sparking an emotional and violent feud involving the woman’s unemployed husband that sends Nader’s life shattering down on him.

One of the film’s best qualities is that it treats heavy subjects in a down-to-earth and thoroughly unlabored fashion. No detail of the intricate plot seems forced or contrived. We are free to contemplate the film’s beauty and humanistic mien while weighing the ethical and religious issues raised by a serious work of art that never seems preachy.

A separation has been gathering steam of late and causing quite a hoopla–some critics are calling it a shoo-in for an Oscar win in the foreign film section. It was recently given best screenplay prize by the Los Angeles Critics Association. Additionally, there is talk of Separation also competing in the Academy Awards’ best screenplay section and for director Farhadi to be entered into the best directing category. Just imagine what a coup that would be if Separation won for best screenplay, directing and foreign film.

The last time a film from Iran competed in the foreign film section was 1997’s Children of Heaven. That film lost to Life is Beautiful.

A separation