← Back to Reviews

A Separation

A Separation, 2011

Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran with her husband and teenage daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). But her husband, Nader (Payman Maadi), is caring for his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who is in the grip of Alzheimer's. When Simin moves back in with her parents, Nader hires a woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to help care for his father. But when the two have a confrontation that ends in Razieh miscarrying, Razieh's husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini) files a formal complaint against Nader.

Always nice when a film with a great reputation more than lives up to the hype.

Going into this film I had been under the impression that the plot centered on the divorce proceedings between the couple, but instead it is more of a combination of drama and courtroom film as the various stakeholders make repeated visits to the local magistrate to plead their case and introduce new evidence.

Asghar Farhadi, who did something structurally similar in Salesman, presents us with a genuinely tricky situation to navigate. Nader is physically rough with Razieh when he kicks her out of the house. Did he cause her to fall? Farhadi deliberately withholds exactly what happens on the landing and stairwell. Either way, Razieh has lost her unborn child (at 19 weeks, which is particularly rough), and the more we learn about her situation, the more sympathetic she seems. At the same time, does Nader deserve to be found guilty of murder?

What comes through most effectively in the film is the fact that this is a nightmare for all involved. Razieh has lost her baby and lives with a husband who is depressed and volatile. Hojjat is still stinging from an unfair firing from the year before, and now has lost a child, plus he has creditors looming over him. Because he is of a lower social class than Simin and Nader, his perception is that the entire system is stacked against him. Nader is facing jail time, something that would be disastrous in terms of caring for her father. Termeh wants her parents to be together, and she is potently aware of the ways that the adults she loves are bending or distorting the truth to serve their own narratives.

The movie presents no easy answers, and it seems as if there is no real way to reconcile the pain caused by the situation. There are so many levels at work in the film, from the class differences, religious differences, and the domestic strife between the two couples. At the same time, there are so many parallels between the couples: both have daughters, both are experiencing marital stress, both worry over money, etc.

The acting across the board is very strong, but I was particularly taken by Bayat's performance. Over and over her words and actions are litigated. When she honestly answers that she can't fully remember what happened on the stairs (you know, because she fell and was hurt and misscarried), this lack of a firm answer is held against her. Again and again her attempts to do the right thing and tell the truth end up harming her.

A potent film that balances drama with courtroom proceedings in a compelling way.