A couple whose differing views have led them to consider divorce. A daughter caught between the two parents. An ailing, ageing parent who requires time and energy. A pregnant woman stuck in a job that makes her uncomfortable, in order to support her family. The basic plot lines of the 2011 Iranian drama ‘A Separation’ are all rather common, yet the film that emerges from behind them is unique in all aspects.
Set in contemporary Iran, there are underlying themes of class, religion and societal norms that permeate the story. Protagonists Nader (Peyman Moaadi), Simin (Leila Hatami) and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) are a middle-class family torn apart by differing opinions. Simin wishes to leave Iran for a better future for herself and her daughter, Nader is tied to home as he must care for his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and 11 year old Termeh is in no position to pick one parent over the other. As Simin leaves home to stay with her parents until a decision is made, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) is employed to help tend to the house and take care of the elderly gentleman. Disputes arise as she keeps secrets about this job and her pregnancy, and she faces several personal and religious conflicts in the decisions she must make, factors which simultaneously provide insight into the environment of their society and develop her character marvellously.
Character development is certainly one of the strongest points of this film, as we observe how despite the negative decisions that each character makes during the course of the movie, they all appear to be inherently good. The honesty we see in each character, as they consistently remain true to themselves despite their negative actions, truly depicts unparalleled moral depth. The audience can see the struggle that each of them faces, as we try – and fail – to determine who deserves a happy ending. As we wonder how the movie will end, we realise that there is no perfect happy ending. Like in real life, there will always be choices, and there will always be problems with those choices. And the harsh truth is that there is nothing we can do about it.
Moving beyond the plot, we can delve deeper into the themes that this film dwells on. Set in a country known for its religious ideals, we see religious conflict at every level. Razieh comes from a most devout family, to the extent that she consults her Imam to find out if certain actions would be considered sins before she does them. She has clear discomfort working so closely with the old man, yet stays committed for the salary. The social and economic disparities between the two families are evident, yet they form parallels to each other, reflected primarily through their daughters.
While the younger child, Razieh’s daughter Somayeh, does not play a huge role in the film, she is constantly beside her mother, even reassuring her at times of worry. 11 year old Termeh, though, is one of the most sincere, insightful characters who reacts to everything with surprising perceptiveness despite her innocence. Writer-Director Asghar Farhadi, known previously for films like “About Elly”, has done a wonderful job of depicting the themes with such intricacy. Mahmoud Kalari’s cinematography has a simple, unpolished touch to it, ensuring that while all shots are well depicted, it is easy for the audience to relate to and feel much closer to the characters.
The music in the film is minimal, with natural background sounds filling the silence. Only the very last scene has a musical score, as it fades out into credits, leaving the audience lost in thought. For that is what this film does, through its characterisation and themes, its plot and its morality – it makes you think.