“A Separation” the incredibly powerful Iranian winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film deserves all the awards that were thrown its’ way this past year. And its’ brilliant director Ashgar Farhadi was named One the Year’s 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine, and it plays RRRREALLLY well on DVD, and now it’s coming out on Aug. 21 on Blu-Ray AND DVD. It’s essential viewing. It’s not to be missed.
The subject, as the title says, is a divorce. Or what starts out really as a trial separation between a secular, middle-class couple soon escalates into something much bigger, a tragedy that is universal as well as thoroughly specific to its’ locale, which is modern-day Iran.
It is simple in the extreme, shot entirely on one camera, as unbelievable as that sounds. And the Special Features feature a commentary with the director/writer which is insightful as well as informative, and enhances the riveting experience of “A Separation” in ways I never expected it to.
Farhadi, for all his talent, has a very monotonal delivery, and I fell asleep at least several times trying to get through the dense translation. And although one of the striking things about the movie is its’ seeming refusal to take sides between the husband Nader(Peyman Mjadi) and his beautiful, Ava Garner-esque, Western-looking wife, Simin, a real screen beauty Leila Hatami, in the director’s commentary Farhadi is clearly blaming the woman in this situation and siding firmly with the hard-working suddenly single father of a teenage daughter, who his commentary reveals to be the character closest to his heart. Although his real life daughter Sarina Farhadi is playing the daughter in question here, her semi-flat portrayal hinders the film from really siding with her in this domestic conflict, that is unraveling her life, as well as that of her parents.
Termah(as enacted by Sarina Farhadi) is kind of a teenaged lump, barely reacting to her explosive family situation. I wonder if that was intentional.,or accidental. That she is supposed to be so numbed and unresponsive for a reason. The world that she suddenly finds herself in, following her mother’s exit from her life, is frightening and paralyzing in the extreme. But Termah is just non-reactive.
To make it worse, her father is taking care of HIS Alzheimer-ridden father in their own home. And he is a devoted son. So when Simin exits, he hires a maid who turns out to be pregnant, and also an extremely religious, working class woman, brilliantly played by Sareh Byant, who is the real emotional core of this complex family drama. She is accused pretty quickly of stealing, and a miscarriage and a vituperative court case result, locking the two families from two different classes in a war that could turn violent and deadly at any minute.
The court, that all these fiery issues are disputed in is also a shocker, a bare, sweaty room, roiling, teaming with life, simple chairs and no lawyers present. Or juries, or court rooms, as we know it,as the two families have at each other in a savage, unrelenting fashion. You don’t want to see this. You don’t want to be involved. But Farhadi’s skill as a filmmaker, draws you in and you can’t look away.
Farhadi, who has a theater background, we find out in the illuminating Special features, brings the drama of a very skilled playwright to bear in this gut-wrenching movie. And of course, it’s an intimate view into a world we, here in the West, never see. Women in chandors. A religion that does not permit a man to touch a woman unless they are married. Women who must keep their hair covered at all times, it’s shocking but enlightening, in that it’s a world we should know more about, but don’t. And the most shocking thing is how familiar it all seems. We are all one, Farhadi is saying.
Time Magazine noted in its’ estimation of Farhadi’s great work, that he, in the illuminating, persuasive way “A Separation” has engaged audiences internationally, is really a great ambassador for World Peace.
Its’ use of intense close-ups and two or three person scenes in cramped stiflying locations just compells and educates at the same time, and on a DVD viewing, all this is enhanced, not diminished. I’ve watched “A Separation” twice now, and want to watch it again. It just grows and grows in your mind. I’ll tell you one thing, you’ll never forget it.