Film Review: A Separation

Review by Keith Gaboury

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, A Separation is set in contemporary Iran and chronicles a melodramatic family drama. In the first scene, the film establishes the thread woven throughout: Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to divorce her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) because he refuses to move to a European country where there would be more opportunities for their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Nader refuses to relocate because his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) is living under the same roof while suffering from Alzheimer’s. As they argue their case in a Iranian court, Simin says to Nader, “your father does not even know you.” Once he responds with “but I know him,” this sets up Nader’s commitment to his father serving as the film’s backdrop.

Through the disagreement and divorce, Simin moves out. Since there is now nobody to look after his father, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) as a caretaker. However, Nader and Termeh comes home to find Razieh gone one afternoon. While she tied Nader’s father to his bed, he has since fallen to the floor and is unconscious. Once Razieh returns from her absence, a verbal and physical conflict unfolds. Nader attempts to push Razieh out of the apartment while she insists payment for the day’s work. With one final shove, Nader slams the door. Razieh is lying on the steps, clearly hurt from the fall. Immediately afterwards, the most powerful scene of the film is when Nader takes his father into the bathroom. As he washes him down, Nader can’t help but sob profusely. The entire weight of the situation is bearing down on his shoulders. It’s quite moving and resonating for viewers who have been, currently are or will be in that same position.

The following day, Simin tells Nader that Razieh is in the hospital. When they inquire about her condition to a nurse, they learn that she had a miscarriage. Earlier in the film, Razieh told Termeh’s tutor of her pregnancy. Razieh and her husband file a murder charge against Nader, arguing that his push and her subsequent fall resulted in her losing the baby of nineteen months. Nader persists that he didn’t overhear the conversation when Razieh spoke of her pregnancy. Within a Iranian legal context, if Nader knew about the pregnancy and intentionally caused her miscarriage, he would go to jail for one to three years.

It’s interesting how the film ruminates on what constitutes a life. Does a fetus in the second trimester deserve equal legal rights as a human out of the womb? While that’s a question with no clear right or wrong answer, I admire a film willing to address it and let viewers make up their own minds.

Indeed, even though A Separation is at times tiring for all the back and forth wrangling, one ultimately walks away from it seeking to discuss the issues posed. Doesn’t any creative expression hope for a response from the audience? That’s exactly what A Separation achieves.

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