The movie that just picked up the statue for Best Foreign Language Film Sunday night at the Academy Awards is A Separation, Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi‘s layered and expertly plotted family drama.
The movie has a running time of two hours, but from the opening scene — featuring a married couple arguing their case for divorce in a family court — A Separation is off to the races and never slows down.
Farhadi frames the scene in one shot so the actors are looking directly at us, pleading. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran and raise their 11-year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) somewhere else. Nader (Peyman Moadi), howver, is dedicated to helping his Alzheimer’stricken father live out his days in Iran out of duty, so Simin files for divorce.
It is just the first of a complicated set of domestic circumstances that pit religious tradition against moral conflicts and societal pressures. A Separation may not look it up front, but it is one of the most dramatic films of 2011.
The couple is upper-middle-class, but the housekeeper that Nader hires to look after his Dad while he’s at work (Sareh Bayat) is not. She’s from the lower class, and her husband (Shahab Hosseini) is in debt and desperate for work, but doesn’t want his wife working.
Asghar Farhadi’s nimble characterizations are painted with all different shades and the story unfolds naturally and realistically. That’s one reason he was the only screenwriter to be nominated this year for a script written in an entirely different language.
One particularly tense moment when a specific piece of information is withheld for dramatic purposes, everything feels off and we are thrown into the same chaos as the characters in the movie. When you are putting the livelihood and success of your family in jeopardy for the sake of tradition, what decisions would you make?
From what I have described above, you may expect a self-important civics lesson, but Farhadi’s film moves swiftly and with the expert timing of a thriller, even as it raises all kinds of complex questions about contemporary Iranian life.
No one character makes all the right decisions, and just when you think you’ve found somebody to root for, they let you down. A Separation challenges you to put yourself in other’s shoes effortlessly throughout the film and with many different characters.
I cannot stress enough how enthralling and easy to appreciate this movie is, regardless of your culture. A Separation is more than a character study; it’s a deftly plotted drama that unfolds layer after layer and will leave you asking all kinds of questions about your beliefs and moral judgments. Fascinating stuff.