CAPSULE: This is a film about moral issues and about decent but imperfect people who have serious decisions to make. It does not oversimplify and writer/director Asghar Farhadi does not take sides. Farhadi does not talk down to his viewer and he trusts his audience to make their own decisions. In his world reasonable people can still end up in perplexing moral conflicts. This is adult filmmaking in the best senses of that term. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Rob Reiner's A FEW GOOD MEN, with screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, pits Tom Cruise as Lt. Kaffee against Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessup on a debatable point about defense policy. The poor audience might well have sided with the wrong person. Luckily the filmmakers had Jack Nicholson smoke cigars and make male chauvinist comments, so the audience has clear signals that Nicholson is a bad man and his arguments must be bad. Reiner makes clear that Tom Cruise's character will always be in the right. It is convenient to have the filmmakers make the issue so unambiguous. They do not confuse the audience with complex issues of ethics or take the chance that someone might come out of the theater having sided with the wrong side. Nice safe movies do much better at the box office.
Films that trust the audience members to think about a complex issue and make up their own minds are rare. The last film I remember like that was THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. Perhaps neither side of the moral question in that film is entirely right, but neither is entirely wrong either, and arguably each is more right than wrong. A SEPARATION is about complex moral issues that are not tied up and gift-wrapped for the viewer. The film, written and directed by Iranian Asghar Farhadi, begins with the conflicts already occurring. Simin (played by Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Maadi) are presenting their cases before a judge. Simin would like a divorce. She wants Nader and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) to leave the country, but she would settle for a divorce so she could leave Nader behind. This is not a society that she wants to bring Termeh up in. Reasonable as her concerns are, her husband Nader does not think he is free to go. His father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) is in advanced stages of Alzheimer's. Even though Nader's father no longer even recognizes his son, Nader feels he is honor-bound to care for his father, just as Simin feels she must provide a better life for Termeh than she would have in Iran. The secular judge does not really decide for either person but chooses not to consider the case. But under Islamic Law all decisions rest with the husband and if Nader remains steadfast the court will not interfere or even decide for either husband or wife.
Simin leaves Nader and goes to live with her parents after finding a daytime caregiver for Nader's father. Raziah (Sareh Bayat) takes the job but is overwhelmed by the deteriorating condition of Nader's father. He now requires someone to clean him, but in this theocratic society a woman seeing the unclothed body of an adult, male non-family-member is considered a sin. In addition, due to an unavoidable incident Nader's father comes near death. In Nader's rage Raziah is fired and forcefully shoved out the door--an action that would later have serious consequences.
The story is just about a simple domestic problem, but it has moral twists at every turn. These are people who interest the viewer and their problems are as engrossing--make that more engrossing--than watching Tom Cruise climbing around on s skyscraper. Like the court, Farhadi refuses to take sides in the issue. He presents a complex moral situation and looks at how Iranian society with its class structure and its religious demands complicates the issue.
Among other things the film does is show how much differently a theocracy is from a society like we are used to in the West. The dictates of the religion hang over all the conflict in the film. Finding a care-giver for Nader's father is made nearly impossible since the religion will not allow a woman to see the body of a man not in her family out of fear that they are going to have sex, something that is not the remotest possibility in the situation here. Raziah cannot take the job without her husband's permission because the religion gives him dominion over her. And because Raziah cannot be trusted to make these decisions for herself (heaven forbid) there are telephone hotlines to mullahs who make often out-of-touch decisions about what is or is not allowed by the religion.
Asghar Farhadi recognizes that he does not need an earth-shattering premise to make a compelling film. One can find complex and engrossing moral dilemmas on every street. And he realizes the value of not bulling his way into the telling to make sure the viewer reaches the same conclusions he does. We are used to didactic "message" stories. So a film that takes a balanced attitude on the issues and respects the viewer gives a real feeling of freedom to come to his/her own conclusions. I rate A SEPARATION a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1832382/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_separation_2011/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper