There are so many heartbreaking moments in “A Separation” (2012) that it would be difficult to write about all of them in this review. But one scene that specifically stayed with me came in the film’s climax. There, the three main characters–a couple, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), and their eleven-year daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi)–appear before a judge who is handling Simin and Nader’s divorce case. The judge asks Termeh with which parent she wants to stay. Termeh has a slight sad smile, and then her face turns quickly red after hearing the question. Tears start to roll down her face and the judge again ask her if she has made up her mind. Termeh requests that her parents leave the room, and the camera then focuses on Simin and Nader, who are seen waiting outside the judge’s room, separated by a glass door. Termeh’s final response is immaterial, and the final segment is a confirmation of a dichotomy that continues to exist between Simin and Nader. Clearly, the beginning and closing moments describe the universe of Simin and Nader in one simple word: a separation that is mental, physical, and domestic.
The film’s title, “A Separation,” embodies many things in the context of the story. As the story unfolds, we see a separation existing in characters’ lives, and it is present in every aspect of their lives. If a couple is separating, then there is a separation between the parents and their children. For Nader, there is a possible separation from his father by death. And then, there is a mother who separates from her unborn baby. The story leads up to the events in the aftermath of Simin and Nader’s divorce. The subplots intertwine, and we see Razieh (Sareh Bayat) as the new caretaker for Nader’s ailing father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Things go wrong after Nader’s father falls from the bed. Nadir fires Razieh and charges her for stealing money from his room and also for being negligent. Razieh files a case against Nader, and in the court case we learn many things about Nader, Razieh, and her hotheaded husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini).
On the surface “A Separation” is centered on a couple’s divorce and a series of events surrounding the divorce. But, the film never concentrates on the divorce aspect as much as it lays emphasis on exploring the consequences of the unintended actions taken by the characters. At a deeper level, however, writer/director Asghar Farhadi accurately projects divorce as the foundation for the metamorphosis of key players in the script. We know the central issue surrounding the divorce, but we are spared the emotional baggage that comes with it. Behind all the legal wrangling, we see how the characters measure up to a defining event that shapes their identities. The interplay, which is the core component in the film, acts as a tapestry of human behaviors, rich in emotional depth, enabling us to understand the characters better. Instead of taking a conventional storytelling approach, the complex interaction leads to a suspenseful narrative where we eagerly wait for the outcome and responses. As such, the film’s second half, assisted by a layered script, is brilliant and mesmerizing, filling strong moments of realistic human emotions.
From a story-line perspective, the script also creates deeply moving characters with rich characterizations. For me, Termeh and Razieh are the most emotionally wrought characters of the lot because they truly feel the reverberations of Simin and Nader’s divorce. Even though Nader is the main male character, the film is, in fact, a feminist drama at heart. As an eleven-year old, Termeh displays immense maturity at seeing her parents split. On several occasions, she is expressive, always presenting her thoughts without any fears but maintains a respectful persona in the presence of her elders. It is unclear whether she is more attached to her father or her mother, but she lives with her father. They both develop a good bond, and Nader tries to nurture her in his own way. As we begin to understand Termeh’s personality, it is evident she is a steadfast person, strongly bound to good morals. She makes Nader realize the importance of telling the truth and standing by it, even if means pain in the long run. The two-way dialogue between the father and daughter is generally sweet and soft, often leading to revelatory moments of sorrow and contemplation for both.
Razieh, on the other hand, undergos a lot compared to the other characters. Her life is shaken when she loses her unborn child. Instead of receiving condolences, she is framed as the conspirator to extort money. While the legal battle is being fought, everyone is busy separating their own right from the wrong; Razieh is left alone to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Finding no voice in the male-dominant world, Razieh, initially, surrenders to the need of the hour for her family. Her swollen and sleepless eyes reveal the pain she has swallowed for her unborn child, and yet, in spite of going through an emotional turmoil, she never complains. Like Termeh, Razieh is also religiously bound by her principles and values, permitting her to take a life-changing stand.
Being the primary character, Nader is usually congenial and soft-spoken, but he can also contort facts for his personal interest. He is a stubborn and firm-headed person, belonging to the upper-middle class—the privileged elites who have everything money-wise, but don’t have enough power to change or influence the judicial authorities. He is blindly duty-bound to taking care of his father and that becomes a major tiff between him and Simin. Even when doing the right thing makes sense, Nader likes to do things his own way, occasionally getting confrontational to get his point across. Indeed, the film’s characters are very much interconnected, and their actions dictate the course of things to follow.
Unlike other Iranian dramas that I have seen that used Iran’s lustrous landscape settings, “A Separation” is mainly confined to the indoors, and we never see the landscapes. Even then, the film’s cinematography is superb, presenting expressive, poignant human faces in a domestic setting. The film won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture in 2012, plus many other international awards, notably grabbing the Golden Bear for Best Picture. The film has the right ingredients: the story, the script, and the characters, making it worthy of all the praise. Without a doubt, “A Separation” is an emotional film that is created with passion and heart, and it remains one of the best pictures of 2011.
Sony presents “A Separation” in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded using an AVC codec. The 1080p transfer is crisp looking, with good detail and consistent sharpness. The palate is devoid of robust colors, mainly consisting of greys and blacks. The blacks are solid, and the contrasts are set appropriately. The facial textures reveal nice details, and skin tones remain realistic and warm. However, on occasion, I found softness in some scenes, but, otherwise, this transfer scores high marks.
A dialogue-driven affair, “A Separation” is presented using a lossless Farsi 3.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track, mainly utilizing the front channels. The dialogue is consistently crisp and clean. Mostly, the film’s soundtrack is serene, and the rear channels are never activated. However, the sound envelope expands in the hospital scene, and we hear a wide range of sounds, mainly people talking and walking around in the hospital. In addition, the film can be viewed with English subtitles.
First, there is an audio commentary track with director Asghar Farhad, who talks about the film’s story in the context of his previous works, the filmmaking techniques used, the script and the characters. He also provides deep insights into the story elements. Next, “An Evening with Asghar Farhadi” is a question-and-answer session, in which Farhadi takes questions from the audience. Finally, “Birth of a Director” is a snapshot of Farhadi, as we get insights into his writing style, moviemaking techniques, and earlier career as a filmmaker. Finally, there is theatrical film trailer.
Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” (2011) is an engaging, thought-provoking drama propelled by superb writing, a set of multifaceted characters, and marvelous performances from all the leads. The film features some nicely done scenes that stay with you till the end. What’s more, the scenes are engrossing, the human emotions are genuine, and there is rarely a dull moment. The drama is touching and multilayered, and its pronounced impact lies in the style the film’s message is delivered.