A Separation

Released:  2011

Cast:  Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Merila Zarei

Oscar Wins:  Best Foreign Language Film (Iran)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Screenplay (Asghar Farhadi)

SUMMARY:  Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are a married Iranian couple who have an almost-11-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi).  At the beginning of the film, Simin has filed for divorce, because she and Nader disagree about whether to leave the country or stay behind.  Simin does not want Termeh to grow up in Iran, but Nader argues that he must stay and take care of his elderly father, who has Alzheimer’s.  Because the two do not agree, the divorce is not granted.  However, Simin packs her things and moves back into her parents’ house; Nader stays in the hosue he shares with his father and daughter.  Without Simin, Nader has to hire somebody to take care of his father during the day; on a recommendation from Simin, he hires a woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat).  Razieh has not told her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), about the job (which ld traditionally be the case), and has to bring her young daughter with her.  Only a few days into the job, Razieh realizes that she may not be capable, as she has to do a lot of heavy lifting.  In addition, she is pregnant, which complicates her physical condition; she also grapples with the religious implications of having to deal intimately with a man she is not related to (on at least one occasion, she has to bathe Nader’s father).  One afternoon, Nader and Termeh get home early and discover that Razieh and her daughter are gone.  Nader’s father is unconscious, having fallen out of his bed, and has one arm tied to the bed.  Nader is furious, and when Razieh returns he lays into her.  He accuses her of neglecting his father, who nearly died, and also of stealing a large amount of money from the house.  While Razieh does not deny that she tied his father to the bed and left, she swears up and down that she did not steal.  Her repeated protests only make Nader angrier, and he pushes her out of the apartment.  Razieh down several stairs as a result.  Later that night, Simin tells Nader that Razieh is in the hospital after suffering a miscarriage.

Razieh and her husband Hodjat bring charges against Nader, claiming that he caused the miscarriage and is therefore guilty of murder.  They also claim that he knew she was pregnant when he pushed her out the door.  Nader counter-sues, claiming that Razieh is guilty of neglecting his father, which resulted in physical harm.  A lengthy investigation follows, in which numerous witnesses, including Termeh and her tutor are called.  Simin and Nader temporarily reunite, but have many disagreements.  Hodjat continues to be vehement in getting justice for his unborn child, and even begins hanging around Termeh’s school.  He often erupts in anger in the judge’s office (where the hearings are held), and ultimately Razieh reveals that he has some mental issues, which is part of the reason he is out of work (which led to her getting a job).  The case begins to take a noticeable effect on all the participants, particularly Nader and Termeh.  Termeh comes to believe that her father has lied about not knowing that Razieh was pregnant, which he later confirms.  He tells her that if he confessed to the knowledge, he risked going to jail for several years; with a father and a daughter to take care of, this was not something he could let happen.  Termeh vouches for her father before the judge, but is clearly torn by the action.  Nader learns that Razieh had left his father because she had a doctor’s appointment, and that she really didn’t steal the money.  For her part, Simin becomes concerned for Termeh’s well-being, and tries to settle things between the two men by offering to pay the blood money.  An agreement is eventually reached, but Nader asks the very religious Razieh to swear on the Quran that he caused the miscarriage.  Razieh has actually begun to doubt this:  the day before the miscarriage, she went out into the street after Nader’s father, and was hit by a car.  That night, she felt a lot of pain, and believes that this may have actually caused the miscarriage, rather than the fall on the stairs.  She refuses to swear on the Quran.  Sometime later, Simin and Nader are back in front of the family judge, getting their divorce granted.  Termeh is asked which parent she wants to live with, but her answer is not shown.

MY TAKE:  I haven’t seen too many Iranian movies, and I don’t know much about Iranian culture, so this was an interesting movie.  Because the women wear the headscarf, I think the perception is that they are repressed, and live in a very patriarchal society.  I was somewhat surprised to find that this isn’t true, at least as far as I could tell.  They dress and act very modernly, though fairly modestly (not a bad thing), and seem to have very equal rights with men.  I thought it was interesting that when Simin and Nader were trying to get a divorce at the beginning, Simin wasn’t allowed to take her daughter without Nader’s permission.  The rational for this was simply that as they were both parents, they had equal rights, so one could not take the child without the other’s consent.  As an American, it sometimes seems like fathers get shorted in custody battles, so this was kind of refreshing.  Simin and Nader also seemed to have very equal roles within the home, which you could tell by the arguments they had.  Nader clearly couldn’t tell Simin what to do, and vice versa.  Aside from these cultural issues, I had mixed feelings about the film.  I didn’t find many of the characters sympathetic.  I didn’t get how Simin couldn’t understand why Nader wouldn’t leave his father:  the man has pretty severe Alzheimer’s, and needs help.  She argues that Termeh is more important, but that’s hard for me to accept:  yes, you have a responsibility to your child, but don’t you owe something to the people who raised you?  Wouldn’t you want that child to take care of you if you were sick?  Simin also didn’t see particularly attached to her daughter, which I didn’t like.  She came off as selfish.  Nader seemed to have a great relationship with Termeh, but I didn’t like that he lied to the judge.  I can understand his reasoning, but a) he shouldn’t have pushed Razieh and b) he shouldn’t have lied to the judge.  Aside from the moral issue, it’s just a bad idea to lie to law enforcement.  To top that off, Termeh figures out that he was lying, so he’s setting a really bad example for her, and puts her in a bad spot when she has to testify.  Somewhat surprisingly, I also had a hard time empathizing with Razieh.  Initially she seems like the underdog of the story, but as the film went on I started to see her as almost sneaky and manipulative.  Murder is a serious accusation, especially when you’re not sure if Nader really caused the miscarriage.  Hodjat is just a hothead, and while he’s probably well-intentioned, he needs to shut up.  I have to admit, I was disappointed in Termeh, too, because she lied to the judge.  Again, I understand her reasons — she’s young (supposedly almost 11, although she looks more like 14 or 15) and she wants to help her father — but I just can’t help seeing lying as anything but wrong.  At the end, I’m not really sure what the point of the film was.  We don’t really know how things ended with the case (I guess they settled), we don’t see what happened with Hodjat and Razieh, Nader and Simin still get divorced, and we don’t know who Termeh picked.  I’m not sure what the movie demonstrated.

RATING:  Motivation unclear.


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