Thursday, February 9, 2012

Movie Review - A Separation

Heading into this Iranian film, which is nominated for two Oscars, including Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Writing, I thought it was going to be about a married couple that was on the verge of divorce. Actually, this is merely the premise. The movie isn't about the couple, as it becomes about an incident that happens about 20 minutes into the film. If anything, the movie is more about conflict resolution or court arbitration in Iranian culture, and not when it comes to marital strife but physical assault, and not between the husband and the wife.

Peyman Maadi plays Nader, the husband. Leila Hatama plays Simin, the wife. Simin wants to leave Iran with their only child, their 11-year-old daughter, Termeh, played by Sarina Farhadi, the daughter of this film's director. Simin wants a better life for Termeh and arguably herself. Nader refuses to leave because his father has Alzheimer's and requires round-the-clock care. Nader and Simin can't reconcile this because both are stubborn or resolute to put it nicely.

Simin decides temporarily to leave and go stay at her mother's house. Termeh stays with her father and grandfather. Simin has to work, so he needs to hire a caretaker to keep watch over his ailing dad. The caretaker is named Razieh, played by Sareh Bayat in her film debut. Razieh turns out to be a woman who doesn't anticipate the amount of work it would be to look after Simin's father.

Things are exacerbated when Razieh's devout religion and strict conservative ways don't allow her to truly care for the old man properly. This leads to the inciting incident of the movie. As a result, Simin is arrested and charged with murder. To go from employment issue to possible murder charge is a big leap, but writer-director Asghar Farhadi handles it smoothly.

There is a gradual build up of dramatic tension and a gradual build up of stakes that you can't help but be pulled deeper and deeper into it. The acting from every single person is so superb, beyond exemplary. The actors would probably argue that it was all on the page. Having not read the actual screenplay for myself, not that I could read Farsi, I would have to fervently agree.

Yet, merely inferring what the screenplay was, I have no doubt that its Oscar nomination was more than deserved. At its core, it's a legal drama but absent all the court room theatrics you'd normally get. The couple on the verge of divorce is simply a framing device.

The opening and closing scenes are long, continuous takes of the couple in a two-shot, and it's in those two scenes that we get all we're going to get about the fate of this couple and that's nothing. While that inherently bothered me, the other stuff in this movie so enthralled me that I almost didn't care. The couple on the verge of divorce is the bread. The real meat of this movie is the legal drama that puts it on par with such classics as Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) or even 12 Angry Men (1957).

It's also worth noting that A Separation is the best reviewed film of 2011. It garnered 99 % on Rotten Tomatoes out of 100 reviews collected. There were other films that had 100 % but from 50 reviews or less, so it makes the critical consensus nearly unanimous.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.

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