A seemingly prosaic, mundane drama, A Separation didn’t hook many people at first impression for we are a world that goes to the movies for ‘a change’ and not to be buffeted under a snow-storm of a quotidian lifestyle, coming straight from the delightful land of Iran. However, this contemporary Iranian drama, when given the chance to, impresses one by its sheer simplicity and strikes a chord of mutual association with the viewers, turning it from a film about family grievances into a microcosm on life itself. The conundrums faced by the characters are not unheard of, their reactions not unexpected and the sequence of events not unforeseen. A Separation is a slice from the pie called everyday life.
Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) decide to call it quits after fourteen-years of married life that has resulted in the birth of a female offspring, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). The wife wants to leave the country, but her husband insists on staying, for he has an Alzheimer’s-inflicted father to look after. The court rejects their application, and the impasse provokes Simin to leave Nader and Termeh, to reside with her parents. Being a working man, Nader hires a pregnant, devoutly religious maid, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after the household and his father. However, things soon go awry, resulting in harrowing consequences, as the lives of entirely good people are mercilessly tossed into the storm.
The characters, all fabulously portrayed, are made up of real flesh and blood, who touch a deeply resonating chord. Despite the theme of conflict being the chief motivator for the film, you find it difficult to choose sides, which is a sign of having endearing and genuinely human characters. Unlike most movies, where the central struggle is stretched to unrealistic proportions and the winner can be picked as easily as picking fallen money off the street, this one really makes you think as to who deserves your shower of sympathy. And once you reach that conclusion, the movie questions it, repeatedly, till you aren’t very certain anymore.
The film presents interesting observations on some stark dichotomies – initially one between the poor who work for others and the well-off who pay them. In the highly conservative Iran, the poor lead a desolate life. They must ensure that cleaning a really old man after he has just helplessly wet his pants isn’t a sin. A woman of the middle-class, on the other hand, can abandon her family and live with her parents without a God being there to chastise her. The two lead females, Simin and Razieh, display this contrast with finesse.
The other dichotomy is between the judgement of the world from the perspective of an adult and a child. The former knows the manners of the world, and he must act accordingly, regardless of whether it appeals to his conscience or bounds it with guilt. A child, with all his innocence, takes everything at face value, and holds veracity in the utmost importance. This difference is shared by Nader and his daughter, Termeh, and shows just how much things vary with age.
The deafening silence in the film resonates of the emptiness prevalent in the lives of each of its characters – a man without his wife, a daughter without her mother, a woman who has lost her child, a jobless man; everyone has a vacuum in their life. What the film captures skilfully is the functioning of these flawed human beings in the equally scarred world. How we must bend the truth for the greater good, how misunderstandings turn into disasters, and how a person is often forced to balance too many things on his plate, adopting different roles at different times, because circumstances compel him to do so.
Director Asghar Farhadi plants each element into the film with subtle, artistic perfection. There are observations that are passed onto the viewers, despite remaining unsaid. The highlight of the movie remains the fact that A Separation isn’t afraid to ask questions. Does a harmless accident which results in a heart-rending loss for the poor need to be heavily compensated by the rich perpetrator?
I don’t even think that question has an answer.