Writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s Golden Globe-winning drama, “A Separation,” uses the titular separation of a married couple to expose the systemic failures caused by Iran’s Kafkaesque legal institutions.
With the widespread protests (and subsequent crackdowns) following President Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009-2010, the solidarity protests with the Arab Spring last year, as well as the heavy-handed government censorship and regulation of Iran’s film industry, it is remarkable a film this challenging was made at all.
Nader (Peyman Moadi) refuses to grant his wife Simin (Leila Hatami) a divorce so she can leave the country with their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Simin believes the situation in Iran is untenable and she has an obligation to provide better opportunities for their daughter while Nader is obligated to care for his Alzheimer’s-stricken father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). When the judge sides with Nader and refuses the divorce, Simin moves out and Nader is forced to hire an impoverished, devoutly religious caretaker, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), for his father.
Shortly after, Nader comes home early to find his father tied to the bed, money missing from his drawer and Razieh nowhere to be found. When Razieh returns with no explanation and a demand to be paid for her daily wages, Nader pushes her out of his apartment. The situation escalates as Nader learns that Razieh is in the emergency room and Razieh’s out-of-work husband (Shahab Hosseini) accuses Nader of putting her there. Either Nader must pay an exorbitant blood price or face the capricious Iranian court system, risking a lengthy prison sentence with no one to care for his father. The question of whether Nader caused the injury or if Razieh is merely attempting to extort money from him forces the audience to separate truth from lies and question what exactly was shown to them.
In addition to a failing marriage, “A Separation” examines religious divides and distrust along gender and class lines as each character fails to understand the perspective of others. Throughout the film characters communicate through windows and doors that provide a physical manifestation of the emotional barriers between them. Director Asghar Farhadi cleverly uses Nader’s front door slamming shut on Razieh as the ultimate expression of separation and the cause of all his subsequent legal problems.
However, Farhadi’s most inspired directing in the film is the single-take opening shot in which Nader and Simin argue their cases for divorce directly into the camera, forcing the viewer into the role of judge. As the story reveals new insight into the characters’ motivations, Farhadi challenges the audience’s prejudices while commenting on the limitations of the Iranian justice system to find the truth in the midst of social upheaval.