If you are the kind of casual filmgoer who never quite got why was everybody so taken with Iranian cinema from the late 1980s onwards, well, you are now in luck. A Separation is your film, but it is also one of the most outstanding and, yes, accessible productions to have come out of the Islamic Republic since the heyday of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In fact, it has also succeeded in reconciling mainstream audiences (both in its native Iran and abroad) and the critical contingent (with a truckload of awards started off by its triumphant Berlin win in February 2011). It's all well deserved, too, as A Separation smartly builds a bridge between global arthouse cinema and Iranian traditions; it blends the latter's preference for naturalistic acting, long takes, absence of music and unflinching look at social subjects with the former's tightening of narrative, ensemble structure and  will to communicate with wider audiences. This could actually be a sort of Iranian Crash or Babel (only smarter and better), as the events that bring into collision course two Teheran families in fromt of a magistrate snowball unpredictably from a single family issue whose butterfly effect unspools in unforeseen directions.

     Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to divorce Nader (Peyman Moadi) so she can move abroad with the couple's teenage daughter. When Nader refuses, Simin moves out, forcing him to hire a caregiver for his Alzheimer's-afflicted father while he's at work; but the pregnant, devout Razieh (Sareh Bayat), trying to make ends meet as her husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini) is long unemployed turns out to be a mismatch that will prove costly to both couples. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi mines the same ensemble feel of his previous but less assured About Elly (where a weekend outing for a group of Teheran friends is marred by the disappearance of a guest), as well as the minutely observed but off-handedly noted class tensions, heightened by religion and a sense of injustice in a country that is more divided than we tend to think. A Separation turns out to become a sort of murky whodunit in search of the truth in between the self-serving statements made by both the well-off couple and the struggling one; their behaviours are not so very distant from our own as we ponder what should be the balance between the society and the individual, a subject that gains an added gravity juxtaposed to the current Iranian society.

     And that is indeed the greatest triumph of A Separation, suffused with a political subtext that is never foregrounded or underlined; first and foremost, this is a story about people, about the truth and about family (and, yes, the kids ever-present in Iranian cinema are present here as well merely as witnesses to events they can't quite understand). Mr. Farhadi is not into the opaque austerity and occasional slip into unwitting miserablism of the "usual suspects" of arthouse Iranian cinema, even though he shares some of their preoccupations and ideas; what he delivers here is something much closer to a mainstream melodrama, and an astonishingly real one at that.

Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Kimia Hosseini; Merila Zarei.
     Director/writer, Asghad Farhadi; cinematography, Mahmoud Kalari (colour); production and costume designer, Kevyan Moghadam; editor, Hayedeh Safiyari; producer, Mr. Farhadi (Asghar Farhadi Productions in collaboration with Dreamlab Films), Iran, 2011, 123 minutes. (World sales, Memento Films International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11, Lisbon, December 2nd 2011. 


Popular Posts