A Separation

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A SeparationThis takes place in Iran (please don’t let the subtitles scare you). It touches upon the unfair divorce laws in the contemporary Islamic part of the world, but it really becomes a courtroom drama about a divorcing couple. And could easily be the best courtroom drama you’ve ever seen. This will rank along side 12 Angry Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s that good.

Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband Nader and daughter Termeh. They’ve spent years waiting for their paperwork to clear, and now Nader wants to stay and take care of his Alzheimer-suffering father. Simin decides that a divorce is the only solution. Unfortunately, both parties have to agree to it. Nader doesn’t agree to it, but don’t think that means you’ll hate this man. There may not be a more fair and ethical man around, and we see this when he hires a woman and how he negotiates with her. Even when this maid lies to him, and may have stolen money, he is reasonable in how he acts; and at that point, the plot really thickens.

It would sound a lot more interesting if I explained why the plot thickens, but you should really discover these things on your own. It will be a lot more powerful that way.

Asghar Farhadi wrote, produced, and directed this powerful piece, and bravo to him. This is a guaranteed winner for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and it has the rare distinction of being nominated for Best Screenplay (that hasn’t happened since The Bell and the Butterfly five years ago).

At the Berlin Film Festival, this movie won the main awards, including Best Actor and Actress. Seeing Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami on screen is a real treat. They’re good looking, interesting people to watch. And although the first hour of this movie was frustrating and stressful – the second half brings up so many engrossing moral questions. The facial expressions Moadi has when he’s talking with his daughter – whether that’s helping with her schoolwork, or trying to explain to her that his legal problems aren’t serious (right up until he has to tell her “It got serious!”) – you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

One character punches himself in the face when he gets upset. Well, the audience will feel like they’re being punched in the gut. Oh, and while I’m on the topic of the man hitting himself – a message to the dopes in the audience I saw this with: you laughed at inappropriate times.

There were at least three scenes with very serious things happening, and the audience thought these were done for comedic purposes. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

It was so refreshing to see women who I thought would be passive. When the controlling men in this argue, these women don’t just blindly obey. They argue their points. And what makes it all so interesting is, almost every character in this film has a decent point. Including the tough judge, who in one sly scene tries to trick the young girl who has to testify in front of him.

When people get upset that critics never seem to like movies, sometimes it takes a great film like this to help explain why that is. For example, there have been 10 films in the last few years that have had a character with Alzheimer’s. I think about Richard Jenkins playing one in Friends with Benefits. He doesn’t recognize his son in some scenes – so we feel sad. In other scenes, he’d be able to give his son words of wisdom. In yet  another, he takes off his pants and sits in his underwear at Applebee’s, giving the comedic relief. How is that good writing?

In this, we see the true pain of trying to care for someone with this disease. When he’s in his underwear, we aren’t laughing (well, a few idiots in the theatre were…).

I have no clue how Farhadi even came up with such an interesting and complex story, but I’m glad he did.

We’re put through an emotional ringer as we see all these characters pulled in different directions. The daughter between her two parents, the father between his wife and dying father, the wife between her family and a better life….

The ads for this film said critic Roger Ebert called it “the best movie of the year.”

It would’ve made my Top 10 list.

It gets 4 out of 5 stars.