Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation takes us on a complex emotional journey, as we watch decent, well-meaning people get tangled up in their little white lies with disastrous results. The film begins with Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) pleading their case for divorce before a judge. Well, only Simin is pleading. She wants to move away from Iran, yet he wants to remain to care for his Alzheimer’s ridden father. Slicing the marriage in half is the only reasonable solution they can come to – even if it breaks their hearts. It’s one of those cases where neither party is wrong, making the ordeal all the more painful to watch.
The biggest victim is their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), who is continually asked to choose between her two parents. Simin moves in with her folks, leaving Nader to hire someone to come care for his father while he’s at work. The successful applicant is Razieh (Sareh Bayat) – although the pay is low and the commute far, she needs the money for her debt-ridden husband, young daughter and new baby on the way. The exhausting requirements of the job take a physical toll on the devout Islam woman (she phones an elder to advise her whether or not it is a sin to clean the old man’s private parts). Off camera, she makes a poor decision that sets off a chain of events fraught with tragedy, leading Razieh and her husband (Shahab Hosseini) to take on Nader and Simin in a legal battle (the details of which I won’t spoil). Through it all, the kids begin to see their parents in a new, unpleasant light. Won’t somebody think of the children?!
I want to compare the film to Woody Allen’s Manhattan; another ensemble relationship drama where the setting is as integral to their interactions as the very actions they take. Of course, this is no satire or even a comedy (although writer/director Farhadi’s screenplay is deeply felt and tender enough to indulge in the occasional comic moment). It is a drama, but it’s never overwrought or melodramatic. It’s tender, and real, yet the conflicts still have massive implications for all involved. It resonates deeply thanks to its universality, which it miraculously achieves without ever once selling out the social mores of its location. Profoundly affecting, wonderfully performed and endlessly surprising, A Separation is one of the year’s best.