Review: Makers of Iranian film ‘A Separation’ believe in story they tell |

Review: Makers of Iranian film ‘A Separation’ believe in story they tell

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Habib Madjidi/Sony Pictures ClassicsLeila Hatami and Peyman Moadi star in the Iranian film "A Separation," showing through Thursday at the Wheeler Opera House. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. nightly.

Watching “A Separation,” a new movie from Iran that earned the Oscar for best foreign film, put me in mind of the American indie-film wave of the early ’70s.

Those movies were considered anti-Hollywood because they focused on gritty subjects, didn’t have happy or moralistic endings, and emphasized characters and reality over adventure and fantasy. “A Separation,” by writer-director Asghar Faradi, tackles rough material (mostly male-female dynamics in modern-day Iran), has a classically ambiguous ending (the final scene is a long take of the separated couple simply sitting on opposite benches in a hospital corridor) and focuses entirely on its everyday characters (almost the entire film is set inside a small apartment and a cramped judge’s quarters, and the camera remains at face level, the better to explore the human emotions).

But “A Separation” didn’t just remind me of the New Hollywood movement; it made me realize something about those films. What “A Separation” shares most with those groundbreaking movies of 40 years ago is how intensely the filmmakers and actors believe in the stories they are telling. In “A Separation” – as in “The Godfather” and “Easy Rider” – you feel the weight of the story, not in an oppressive way but in a captivating one. They knew, or at least believed to their bones, that what they had to say was worth hearing. And by their insistence, it became so.

As “A Separation” opens, the separation already has happened: Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), an attractive 40-ish couple, are explaining to a judge why they are divorcing. Nader needs to stay in Iran to care for his father (played by Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who suffers from Alzheimer’s; Simin wants to leave the country to ensure a better future for the couple’s 12-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). These are both persuasive reasons, and the film doesn’t take sides. Instead, it focuses on an incident that happens in the wake of their separation, an incident caused by their separation.

Nader hires a woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to care for his father while he is at work. Razieh, who is from a somewhat lower social class than Nader, has difficulties of her own: a pregnancy; a long commute; and a husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who has been unemployed for months, sparking his fiery temper. One day early in Razieh’s employment, Nader comes home to find his father on the floor, tied to the bed, nearly dead. A heated argument with Razieh ensues; words, accusations and physical contact are exchanged. With a swiftness that puts the U.S. justice system to shame, the matter winds up before a harried, no-nonsense judge.

The story unfolds with a few twists, but this is no procedural thriller. Instead, it is a human thriller, as issues – parent-child relations, husband-wife dynamics, God and religion, the extended family, divisions within contemporary Iran, truth and duty – are raised with unusual clarity, precision and complexity. You care about the characters, but more significant and rare, you identify with the situations they are in.

And the longer “A Separation” goes on, the louder you hear this voice. It’s the filmmaker, Asghar Faradi, standing over your shoulder, telling you: Pay attention. This is important.

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