Review of Asghar Farhadi’s ‘A Separation’

I had the chance to watch the Oscar-winner A Separation last night and I feel the need to express my feelings about it.

 Video courtesy of YouTube.

I must begin with admitting that I’ve only seen a handful of Persian films, so I don’t have much to compare it to when it comes to films in Farsi, but on the spectrum of all the foreign films that I’ve seen(which are hundreds), this would be one of the best.

Hollywood has become very one-dimensional and selective with respect to the films produced in it and especially when it comes to its standards of selection. I am happy that the academy awards chose smart for a change.

Hollywood  films (and I’m tempted to say all films produced in North America) are usually created to meet demand, and that’s nothing new, but it disappoints me to see promising filmmakers abide by industry standards, ones that don’t stimulate intellectually or emotionally  enough but that can keep you entertained long enough to last through a film. It’s like being tricked to see a film, it’s enjoyable to watch, but not worth talking about or seeing again…or even remembering.

The more often a lousy film receives academy recognition, the more the filmmakers feel the need to produce formulaic content and the less they produce work that’s their own, they see risk in making art that’s not defined as “profitable”( and yes, film IS art).

As a viewer, I don’t want to be entertained for an hour and a half, I want to be intrigued for days!

That’s the beauty of film, it’s impact as much as it’s presentation. I want to leave a theatre affected by what I saw and wondering why and how as opposed to leaving with a head-nod of  approval or a head-shake of disappointment.

Good films make a story worth listening to, it has memorable quotes/dialogues and depicts people in ways that tell stories within a story. A bad film will often use the same tools in different contexts and back them up with either,

A) A good soundtrack

B) A solid love scene, or

C) A cast made up of well-liked actors who will often generate all the excitement and detour the attention from the film itself.

A Separation has managed to shatter the notion that films need any of the above while framing the story within a cultural context that not too many are familiar with. Iran, because of its islamist regime, is already very strict with the kinds of films that can be made, but Farhadi aimed to educate rather than simply narrate. Without ruining the story, here are the elements that made this movie worth watching:

The household dynamic and divorce

A wife decides to file for divorce because of her husband’s refusal to travel abroad with her – his reason was that he needed to stay in Iran to care for his father who had Alzheimer’s. The first guess, of many viewers at the sight of a woman in a headscarf in court is that she was the victim of spousal abuse. She’s also a working woman who is pursuing a better future for her child, not a cooking/cleaning/beaten woman. The notion that divorce is not a option is also challenged, showing that middle-class women in Iran CAN have the choice of wanting and getting a divorce. As opposed to the classic portrayal of women in the region; she’s capable, she’s a choice-maker and she has say when it comes the (in)/stability of her marriage, in other words, she’s a human being (a statement to those believers that feminism and freedom are border-sensitive).

There’s also an emphasis on the father-son relationship that’s very rarely presented in any film for that matter. The father is torn between living abroad with his family or caring for his father for the sake of respect and love. There’s also the important element of martial love – something that’s often misrepresented with the belief that all non-western marriages are forced upon the women and that they’re more like hostages, not women who love. Even at the time of their separation, there’a sense of attachment to one another.

The Mystery

Nader (Peyman Moaadi), at the time of his separation, is forced to hire a pregnant caretake for his father. She begins to become uncomfortable with the nature of her job but keeps it because of obvious financial needs. A fight breaks out between Nader and the caretake and she loses the child in a miscarriage shortly after. He’s then charged with murder and both his innocence and her honesty become questionable in the movie. That’s what caught the attentions of the viewers; that they themselves couldn’t tell which side of the story was the right side. I even forgot some things that were said/done at some points and became so engaged with the story that I was second-guessing what I saw and heard.

Mise-en-scène

Farhadi used very little music and the reaction shots were well-documented to the point that they shaped the environment in the film. It’s very hard to notice the details of the home, the clothing (which were very simple for a reason) and the spacing, but what the viewer response was well-dictated. So no viewer would have left the theatre with any exact description of any physical details, but  had a fairly good description of what they felt. The scenes were mostly in the home or in the court, so the attention wasn’t drawn to any landscape, architecture or anything specific to the city/country. Iran was depicted through Iranians.

This film depicted crime with no one being stabbed or beaten to death, drama with no excessive crying or screaming in agony and shaped the narrative in a way to trigger questions, fears and anticipation. I think it’s nailed film-making better than today’s hollywood ever will.

Go see it. It’s (re)playing in theatres.


-M

p.s. It’s called IRAN (pronounced E-rawn not Eye-ran), my ears and blood pressure can’t handle the ‘pretend-to-struggle’ accent.

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