Friday, March 16, 2012

In Theaters: A SEPARATION (2011)

(Iran/France - 2011)

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi.  Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Sareh Bayet, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Kimia Hosseini, Babak Kirimi. (PG-13, 123 mins)

This year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner is deserving of all accolades, a powerful, gut-wrenching examination of a situation that spirals beyond what any of the participants thought possible (when reminded he said the predicament wasn't serious, all one character can say is "It got serious").  Writer/director Asghar Farhadi's film takes place in an Islamic world run by religious law, but it's not a critique, it never panders, it never politicizes, and it never takes a side.  No one in the film is completely right and no one is completely wrong.  It's a compassionate film with characters doing what they believe is right.  It's a complex film of many ambiguities and gray areas that will have you thinking about it and debating it long after viewing.  It's a great film, and a very moving, very human drama.

Leila Hatami as Simin
After 14 years of marriage, largely secular Iranian couple Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) have elected to divorce.  They still love each other and want to remain married, but Simin wants to move their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director's daughter) to the west, away from the relentlessly strict Islamic culture of Iran.  Nader wants to move as well, but the only thing keeping him in Iran is his elderly, Alzheimer's-stricken father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who lives with them and needs constant care.  Simin goes to live with her mother, while Termeh stays with Nader.  Needing someone to care for his father while he's at work and Termeh is at school, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayet), who doesn't really want the job, but her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is unemployed and has spent time in jail for money owed to creditors.  Razieh needs the job, but has to hide it from Hodjat, a devout Muslim who could never allow his wife, even accompanied by their young daughter Someyah (Kimia Hosseini), to be in a house with a man whose wife is not present.  Problems arise on the first day of the job when Nader's father soils himself, and Razieh needs to call a religious advisor to ensure that removing his pants and cleaning him won't constitute a sin ("I won't tell Daddy," whispers Someyah, who already shows wisdom beyond her years).  The second day, the old man manages to wander down the street, and on the third day, Nader and Termeh arrive home to find Razieh and Someyah gone and the old man tied to his bed.  Razieh explains that an emergency required her to leave.  Nader insists that some money is missing from a drawer.  Razieh demands to be paid.  An argument ensues and Nader pushes her out the door.  Razieh ends up hospitalized, claiming Nader pushed her hard enough to cause her to fall down some steps, resulting in a miscarriage.  Nader didn't know she was pregnant.  An enraged Hodjat finds out his wife has been working for Nader, then has Nader charged with murder in the death of the unborn child.

Nader (Peyman Moadi) and his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi)
What makes A SEPARATION so fascinating is the way that every event, no matter how seemingly trivial and inconsequential, comes into play later on.  You marvel at the intricate construction of Farhadi's script.  These actors are unfamiliar to most western audiences (Hatami is a major star and a popular, award-winning actress in Iranian cinema), which, from the perspective of an American audience, makes them even more believable.  Everyone is excellent in this, and most impressive are the two younger co-stars, particularly little Kimia Hosseini as Someyah. Sarina Farhadi, whose Termeh is really the emotional center of the story, delivers a strong performance, and the casting works most of the time.  I say "most of the time," because I kept thinking "She looks a little older than 11."   She was 18 (!) at the time of filming.  She doesn't look 18, but she definitely looks older than 11 (I was guessing 14) and while it's not quite Martin Short in CLIFFORD, it is an occasional distraction.  Other than that very minor issue, A SEPARATION is a brilliant film that will stay with you long after it's over.

Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) and Razieh (Sareh Bayet)

18-year-old Sarina Farhadi as 11-year-old Termeh.  11?!

Kimia Hosseini as Someyah

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