Review: 'A Separation'

Leila Hatami in 'A Separation' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Leila Hatami in 'A Separation' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Moments. Director / writer Asghar Farhadi understands that life is composed of moments, one following the other. Sometimes those moments lead to wonderful pleasure. Sometimes those moments lead to gut-wrenching tragedy.

A Separation, nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, as well as for Best Original Screenplay, begins with one such moment, in which Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) sit facing the camera, explaining their situation. They are married, but Simin wants a separation.

Strike that; Simin doesn’t want a separation: She wants to leave Iran and emigrate to America with her husband and teenage daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). When pressed, she explains that she fears for Termeh’s future prospects, which she believes are limited. Simin speaks respectfully, but with great passion. Equally passionate is the argument from Nader, who insists that he must remain in Iran to care for his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Nader does not believe the family should be split up, and refuses to grant Simin a divorce.

Left unspoken in that initial discussion is the reality of modern-day Iran’s cultural practices and the restrictions of a strict legal system. Simin chafes under those restrictions and struggles to work within them in order to honor her own conscience. But Nader is doing the same thing. And, in her own way, so is Termeh, who is caught in the middle. If only circumstances were different, perhaps they all could achieve their goals and enjoy a happy, satisfying family life.

But they live in Iran, and the separation has far-reaching, unexpected consequences. Each moment that is depicted follows from the one before. It’s not fate that is being played out, though, it’s the reality of the lives of Simin, Nader, Termeh, and others who fall within the powerful pull of their emotional gravity.

All the drama adds up to a crushing, powerful film that placed very high in my top 10 list for 2011. Local critics had the opportunity to see A Separation early in December for awards consideration, and the film has been on my mind ever since. Highly recommended.

A Separation opens tomorrow, exclusively at the Angelika Dallas.

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