A Separation (2011)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat
Runtime: 123 minutes
My Rating: ★★★★★, or 10/10
In Short: A marvel! Dark, intense and consistently surprising; one of the best of the year, easily
Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is such an expertly written, directed and acted film that it creates an atmosphere of dark intensity. The film, with its many plot turns, some small, some huge, is consistently surprising, and manages to be not only one of the best of the year (which it easily is), but also one of the most interesting, a film that provokes thought and discussion not only after it is finished, but during its runtime, a surprisingly fast two hours.
Farhadi brought glory to Iran. Filmmakers such as Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi had previously brought acclaim to Iran’s growing film industry, Farhadi (whose previous film About Elly was voted among the top ten Iranian films by Film Magazine, placing at #4) recently gave it a much-needed boost of popularity, bringing home to the country the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, at a time when it was most needed. Iran suffers under the rule of tough film censorship laws, and many films made in Iran are banned from the country and can only be shown overseas, including the acclaimed work of many popular filmmakers such as Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi (the latter of whom was recently handed a 20-year prison sentence for making films, causing a worldwide outcry).
To call A Separation a breakthrough for Iranian cinema is somewhat ignorant, considering they had their “breakthrough” many years ago. However, it is also accurate as a description of the film’s reception, breaking down barriers and striking audiences with a startling fury, enough to earn it two Academy Award nominations and one win. A Separation is one of the greatest films the country has produced, and while I’m no expert (having only seen a handful of Kiarostami films prior to this), I see it as one of the most impressive works the country has produced. It had a profound effect on me, and two days later I am still trying to process my thoughts on it. It is surely a masterpiece, deserving of its praise and its Oscar, as well as much, much more.
I will not delve into the specifics of the plot of this film, because to even begin to do so is to give away more than you need to know before seeing it. It is fantastic, and I think that’s enough to say. Asghar Farhadi’s direction is stellar, and his screenplay is stunning, certainly worthy of the Oscar it was nominated for. Into his film Farhadi incorporates all the most important details of modern Iran, from the smallest things to the hugest issues, to enhance his film’s subtle brutality. Religion is one of the hugest, most overhanging things. Farhadi does not treat it as a negative aspect of his society, though it is what prevents characters from doing pivotal things, simply as an aspect that everyone respects and has accepted, and influences them in only positive ways, even if it causes inconvenience.
The film is a precise, haunting look at a society which may seem so different to ours, but feels familiar with its strict power and unswerving focus on a “justice” that many still ceaselessly argue for and against. What is just? What is right? A Separation is a film that, without becoming arty, annoying or pressing, asks us to consider these questions, and how their answers compare between different societies. Each person, each nation, each system has a different opinion, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead and what the answers to these questions may be is a dreadful, painful anxiety. A Separation channels our emotions and allows us to feel them flow through us and exit us, whether in a benign tensing of the facial muscles or an involuntary outburst of verbal articulation. In a world where many films do less than offer cheap thrills and general idiocy, it is nothing less than liberating to see a film so thought-provoking and mesmerising.