Sunday, March 4, 2012
A SEPARATION: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat (123 min.)
The best domestic dramas deal in the currency of moral choices. Think of In the Bedroom, and the pain and emotional weight of tough decisions serving as the dramatic tension. A Separation, the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film winner from Iran, deals with so many different moral conundrums, so many variating domestic situations, but never loses focus. It is a film of simple brilliance, focused and uncluttered, and rife with stellar performances from top to bottom. As an American, or better yet as a non-Iranian citizen, I think the picture may even work on more levels of intrigue than it would to a native Iranian viewer. Here is a side of the tumultuous country many never see. And while the events that transpire are unique to the environment in which they are created, the power of the film lies within the universality of the subject and the characters.
Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are a married Iranian couple who, as the film opens, are arguing in front of a judge. Simin is requesting a divorce, but not because she no longer loves Nader. She wants to leave the country with their daughter, Termeh, to give her a better life and more opportunity. But Nader refuses to leave because he must tend to his father, deep in the throes of Alzheimer's disease. Simin cannot leave the country without Nader, so the divorce is necessary. Until the divorce is finalized, Simin decides to live with her parents, leaving Nader in a tough spot. He must work, his daughter must go to school, so he hires a near helpless woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to tend to his father. Razieh soon finds out this task is more than she can endure on a daily basis.
There is an error in judgment which leads to an argument between Nader and Razieh. The argument leads to an accident, a death that I will not divulge here. I will only say Nader is accused of murder and must defend himself in front of the courts, figthing against the words of Razieh and her volatile, dangerous husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini). All the while there are children caught in the middle of the trial. There is the young daughter of Razieh, Somayeh, who may have seen something, and Termeh, the teenage daughter of Nader and Simin played with compelling conviction by Sarina Farhadi. Termeh becomes a pivotal character in later scenes where she must choose with which parent to live.
Peyman Moadi delivers a performance as Nader that is so crucial to the emotional center of the story, and is executed to perfection. Nader is not a bad man, he is quite the opposite. He loves and is dedicated to caring for his dying father, he respects his wife and adores his daughter, he is a great moral man, but in a moment of anger he allows his moral center to fade. It is absolutely vital that Nader be a sympathetic character; had he been a bad father or husband, A Separation would have lost a certain emotional pull. The weight of morality and making the right choices abound all throughout A Separation. Blame hangs upon these characters, especially Simin, like an albatross. There are questions of what Nader knew or didn't know, who may have answers to the question, and the ultimate decision of the players feels genuine. The screenplay from Asghar Farhadi, who also directed, is exceptional in every moment.
The added intrigue to a non native of Iran lies within the judicial system, and the gender relationships of these characters. This is the other side of Iran not seen in CNN sound bytes and editorials. There is a domestic environment in the country I found fascinating, and if A Separation should be considered true to the core - and I believe it should be - the women of the country are not as marginalized as certain outlets would lead you to believe. Despite the uniqueness of the film's environment, the themes and the narrative strike a universal chord. The camera never uses tricks, it stays immediate and tightly focused on these people as they navigate a tricky moral ground.
A Separation is practically a flawless and ingenius work of filmmaking from everyone involved. I am only surprised there were not acting nominations handed out for several of the characters, most especially Moadi. This should have taken the ninth slot in the Best Picture race.