A Separation: Movie Review

I have seen quite a few Pakistani films, and though the culture there is similar to my life, this is the first Iranian film I watched. I largely relied on the subtitles, except for the salaams and the salutations that are normal in everyday Muslim conversation but be rest assured this movie is relatable to anyone from any cultural background.

"Calling it a masterpiece is too mild a compliment."

“Calling it a masterpiece is too mild a compliment.”

“A Separation” is an Asghar Farhadi film revolving around a Muslim family in Iran who get caught up in the Iranian justice system over an issue that initially seemed trivial but no sooner got out of control. Crisp direction, tightly held camera work and staged-play kind of feel to the acting are distinct features of this movie. As the very title suggests, the movie commences with the separation of Nader and Simin, the husband and wife over conflicting interests about their adolescent child, Termeh’s future. While both Nader and Simin might not have any grave problems in their relationship with each other, they both desire different things and therefore decide to part ways. What they don’t realize, neither at the beginning nor when things have already gone out of hand much later, that with a little patience and steady thinking they could’ve found reasonable middle ground. But we’ll get to that later, I suppose.

While Simin is a strongly opinionated woman in a headscarf, she believes her daughter, Termeh will not be able to achieve a steady future in this country. Simin wants the family to move abroad so that Termeh can claim a better education right in her formative years. Nader, on the other hand, is a man who is invariably and repeatedly caught in his own turmoil. His father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and is now in need of personal care and attention. Nader and Simin both have their own justifiable reasons for wanting what they want and right at the start you figure out that their own personal interests, too, somehow end up forming a part of what they desire.

Simin: “Does he even know you’re his son?”

Nader: “I know that he is my father.”

The movie commences with the divorced couple trying to get along with their newly separated lives. When Simin packs her bags to leave, Termeh decides to stick with her father. Nader, now left on his own accord is unable to take care of the daily chores along with his absent-minded father’s time-to-time requirements. He employs a house maid, Razieh to look after the work while he is away at work. Little did he know what that decision would lead to.

I’m not sure revealing any more about the story would be fair and would then let me label this review spoiler free. Also, I will tell you that the point of conflict strikes in very early on in the movie. When Nader gets himself into a situation that could affect Termeh’s life, too, Simin intervenes. The movie surrounds five characters, Simin and Nader, Termeh, and the house maid, Razieh and her husband Hojjat. The audience is offered a somewhat brief exposition of every character throughout the movie. Nothing about any of these characters is stereotypical.

Although Hojjat is an extremely short-tempered and aggressive man, quick to make loud accusations you realize that he, too, is facing his own demons in the form of unemployment, the visible horizon of oncoming poverty and a deep resentment towards people who are relatively better off. Razieh, on the other hand, who I loathed very much, is actually one of those extremely devout Muslim women, almost on borderline paranoid. Some of her accusations made me cringe but even then I realized where it’s coming from. When you believe in certain things too strongly, nothing anyone says or does will make little sense. You will always see only what you wish to see. You might even be lying but it will feel like the truth. It’s not even politicians or sociopaths that we need to be scared of, it’s these people who will use religion in their defense and offence.

While every character has depth and reason behind their every action, none of them are entirely right or entirely in the wrong. That is what makes this so difficult. You cannot even decide who to sympathize with, who to hate, who to feel protective about. That last emotion, maybe you can appoint that to Termeh. Little Termeh who is implicitly manipulated among all these moral dilemmas and conflicts. Termeh, is the heart of the film. Her steady, observant eyes behind those glasses are ever so endearing. When she cries, you know Nader would do anything to make it better. Even though he chooses to stay in Iran for his father’s sake, he isn’t in any way overlooking Termeh’s education and upbringing, altogether.

A major plot twist towards the end which you may or may not have seen coming is the crescendo in the movie. Out of the many obscure moments and behaviours, this is a revelation, a clarity. A Separation cannot be called an emotional drama of sorts. The basic design of the storyline is, that there is no fixed storyline. It’s just a sequence of events happening one after the other. The movie does a wonderful job at making you feel déjà vu at several instances. Who hasn’t witnessed their parents fighting as a child and secretly feared what might happen to you if they decided to “Divorce” or when a terminally ill family member embarrasses themselves and you find yourself feeling pity for them, tell me that at the time you didn’t cry yourself to sleep. Numerous such raw, stunning imagery is depicted in this movie and is rather overwhelming.

What left an indelible mark on me more than anything was the way the movie concluded. Anyone who knows me fairly well will know what endings appeal to me the most. A Separation rightly ends the intense, fantastically raw and titular depiction of human nature criticisms in the most ambiguous manner.

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