What can you say about a film that is so vividly real, and so intense, that it holds you spellbound for two hours, without letup? A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, would be superior filmmaking under any circumstances. That it also enables Western audiences to relate to its Iranian characters as people—not as political enemies or faceless statistics—is an equally great achievement.
There are no heroes or villains in this story: there are only everyday figures who try their best and struggle to survive. The story begins as a modern-thinking woman asks for a divorce and is told, by an unseen magistrate, that she can’t take her daughter out of the country if her husband doesn’t consent. Here is our first taste of a patriarchal society where men, and men alone, make the decisions. The woman, who has red hair and looks almost Western, isn’t without fault: she wants her spouse to abandon his aged father, who has Alzheimer’s and can’t care for himself.
This is just the first chapter of an unfolding story that involves circumstance, coincidence, and choice. The couple’s daughter is caught in the midst of an ever-spiraling controversy after her father hires a caregiver for his father and things go wrong. Matters of conscience and ethics come into play, and the stakes get higher at every turn.
I am reluctant to divulge any more of the story. Suffice it to say that even though some aspects of the narrative are particular to Iran, there is little that couldn’t take place anywhere in the world. That’s why A Separation is so relatable, and so significant.
The acting is naturalistic, and the camerawork invisible, adding to a feeling that we are simply watching life unfold. And, like real life (as opposed to the contrivances of “reality television”) what happens is impossible to predict. A Separation is devastating drama, superbly presented—and not to be missed.