A Separation (2011) [10/10]

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.

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Posted on March 13, 2012, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. I want to see this really badly. Heard so many good things about it

  2. ‘A marvel. Dark, intense and consistently surprising. One of the best of the year, easily.’

    YES. Yes, it is. Watched it again March 1 after first seeing it back at SFF in June 2011 (where it was the best film I saw, alongside SENNA + THE TREE OF LIFE). Riveting character study and family drama, that brings in the obvious flaws of Iran’s justice system and delves into an undercurrent of themes concerning class, religion and gender. A flawless screenplay, and brilliant performances.

  3. Can’t wait to see it!

  4. Oh gosh i loved this film.

    It was amazing to see how different UK is in judicial system and in marital make up to Iran.

    Well acted, well written and very interesting.

    • I’m glad you loved it Scott. It definitely deserved its Oscar. The comments on the judicial system were powerful and moving indeed.

  5. On a more attentive viewing of the film, the opening scene has some strange undertones. Simin asks Nader to explain why he does not want to leave the country’s ‘circumstances’ behind and join her in leaving Iran for a hopefully better life in the West? Nader says she knows the reasons very well already and there are many. Simin challenges him to present to the court just one good reason. Nader claims his demented father’s need of care as just one reason. Simin retorts that this is only an excuse!
    Is it too much if a viewer like I, be wondering about all the other multitude of reasons, some of which according to Simin would be the real ones?
    Why are these other reasons not put to the judge (viewers)?
    If we trust Farhadi, to be shifting questions to his intelligent viewers, which he has claimed as his favorite style, then the whole film should be about the real reason Nader would not want to leave Iran.  
    Note that the last scene of the movie shows the family wearing black, indicating the demise of a close relative – presumably the demented father, who needed oxygen because of his heart/lung problem.  So, why go on for ‘ a separation’ ?

    • You raise some interesting points that I’ll definitely be thinking about. It’s a complex film, indeed. I agree with you that perhaps there are more layers or reasons to why Nader wants to remain in Iran, but perhaps these questions are better left unanswered. I certainly think Farhadi thinks so. I will have to see the film again, probably.

      • Thanks for your reply. Though I think Farhadi would revel in our digging into the more obscure corners of his story and come out with our own gems. He has only said that there are places where he has hidden treasures and he would like us viewers to find out for ourselves. Only that he is not going to put any claims to our find!

  6. So, so, so amazing. So amazing….I could just keep repeating that forever, I loved it so much. Those two hours really did fly by. I think the opening scene will stay with me for a long time.

  7. Great review Tyler. I think this is playing at a local indie cinema, I’m gonna see if I could catch it before its run is over.

  8. I watched this movie last summer and I thought it was good, but for very different reasons than many others. I didn’t think it was hard at all to take sides. to me it’s a movie about a sepration from a country, about why women who want to get out of oppression have no choice but to leave.

    Anyway: the movie from Iran that made the biggest impression on me last year was another one: This is Not a Film. Have you seen it? If not, I strongly recommend you to do it.

  9. I agree to almost every word yo say. I watched it a couple of days ago and I am finding it hard to write anything about it. It hits you really hard on emotional level. Hopefully, I will gather my thoughts enough to put something on paper. Great Review though !!

    • Thanks man. It was difficult to write a review, as this is such an amazing film and so difficult to describe without ruining certain plot points for those who haven’t seen it.

  10. Still waiting for Netflix to send me this movie GRRR! Your raving review is just adding to all the hype and acclaim, I hope it’s worth it ahaha 😉

  11. sanclementejedi

    I was less than impressed, it seemed like a fairly run of the mill divorce melodrama to me. I did enjoy the look inside the theocratic society, but to call this film groundbreaking would be quite a stretch. The cinematography was certainly mundane and the films big surprise ending was telegraphed like an onside kick everyone in the stadium sees coming.

    • I knew eventually I was going to find someone who didn’t like it. Perhaps it isn’t “groundbreaking,” but it deeply moved and impressed me, and I’m very glad I saw it. While I’ll admit the surprise ending isn’t the greatest, it’s the intense journey toward that ending that I find truly stunning.

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