A Separation (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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A Separation (2011)

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No one is able to escape the camera.  It's capable of judging so easily be clearly sees everything.  So what do we see in A Separation?  Everything.  This is the film Bergman was talking about when he said that truth in cinema is a lie told through light surrounded by darkness.

Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simini (Leila Hatami) are not arguing so much as they've reached an impasse of exasperation.  Whatever connection they shared is strained through Simini's desire to raise her daughter away from all of this.  The judge (Babak Karimi) asks what a better land means without her father to come with them?  She cannot answer and Nader cannot leave.  He's dedicated himself to his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), struck down with Alzheimer's, who does not remember the person who is responsible for his daily survival.

On they go, getting angrier, darting their reasons.  She has visas to a better place, he has a job, she sees opportunity, he sees obligation, and neither one shares barely an empathetic thought for their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  Despite their love, which both will show again and again, she's become another bargaining chip in the rift that has grown between them.  Their daughter, sensing she is about to feel the same, tries to clutch them both and down they all fall.

No voice is passive.

These moments are told unflinchingly by writer / director Asghar Farhadi.  This is his fifth film and once it was over I will not be satisfied until I find out how he arrived here.  He sets his camera down and watches, not with passive stability, but alive with the jittery expectation of being able to join in a conversation at any time.  At no time does the focus dart in too closely, breaking the intimacy of the moment, nor does it stand far away and allow us the breathing room to make sense of everything.  I have not felt a film as immediate as this in a very long time, and not a single thing goes wrong.

The dialogue is a torrent of information, constantly broadcast, with a maximum of brevity.  For the whole film it feels as though no one stops talking but everyone has something they need to say right now.  The opening scenes are just the appetizer, once Simini is gone she hires Razieh (Saren Bayat) to help out with Nader, his daughter, and his father.  She, too, is constantly prodded for information in the way that we might ask small questions of someone's appearance or choice of books to better serve existing prejudices.  Razieh plays the game with honesty, aware that she needs the money, but more beholden to her religion which says she can't be with a man (no matter how old and feeble) without her husband.

Then, as they say, something happens.  It's a misunderstanding, but one predicated on her desire to hide her position from her ferociously sad husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini.)  Is he violent?  Possibly, but more in the grips of the same kind of religious fervor his wife is, and the kind Nader is more than willing to exploit.  Then the dance of words and actions begins with little grace and mountains of sadness.

"You're young to have this happen." - Leslie Norris-

A Separation is built on one of the richest screenplays in years.  Much of this is helped by Farhadi's insistence that we do not leave these people, but it falls back on the words and actions he set in motion.  There is not a single wasted moment of the film and, more importantly, not an action that goes unpunished.  Everyone is a good person capable of horrific things, and when the pressure mounts no one is saintly enough to do what is right, either for themselves or others.

Still, and this is crucial, no one gets to judge what is right.  The movie jumps constantly from each characters perspective, allowing a crucial bit of information to go noticed by one person which could help free another, but at the cost of someone else.  Farhadi does not treat these moments with exhilaration or triumph but, much like the judge, sighs heavily under a modern system of political punishment so intertwined with endless blame that he can make no one whole.

This movie is achingly human.  There are no extravagant moments of grandstanding and as much as I love melodrama it has no place here.  The separations grow between daughter, father, mother, friend, trusted official - there is no one rift because they're all the kinds of people destined to grow apart.

It's not inevitable, it's just how things are sometimes.

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A Separation (2011)

Screenplay written and directed by Asghar Farhadi.
Starring Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, and Babak Karimi.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. One of the best pieces of writing I’ve read on this film. The filmmaker knows exactly what he’s doing — doesn’t crowd us and doesn’t give us time to think it all out.

    As you said, every character ostensibly has something immediate and important to say just at that moment. It’s a brilliant, unflinching piece of work. Some of the finest acting I’ve seen in the past decade.

    • Thank you very much for the kind words Sam.

      Regarding the acting, it was at the same level of everything else in the film – which is to say absolutely perfect. For a “first among equals” pick, Asghar’s daughter Sarina was absolutely stunning. The moment toward the end when she makes a choice that proves to be too much for her and just breaks on the couch clinched it for me.

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