Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Separation

Movie Review: A Separation

Director: Ashgar Farhadi

Reviewed: 23 February 2012

jamesintexas rating--**** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

An uncomfortable classic. A talkative swirling amalgamation of emotions of several families set in modern day Iran, A Separation is a masterpiece that confronts in subtle, sophisticated, simultaneous ways class, religion, divorce, gender, power, as well as education and nationalism.

A family deals with an impending divorce.
A son deals with his father's dementia.
A daughter deals with her parents' fighting and her own education.
A woman hired to take care of the husband's father deals with her own faith crises, her care of her younger daughter, the constraints of working in an unfamiliar man's home, and her marriage.
A wife deals with her desire to flee Iran but not her daughter.
A husband deals with his desire to rule his wife in all things while also confronting his lack of employment and the family's imminent poverty.
A teacher deals with the ramifications of one conversation in passing.
A judge deals with the conflicting stories, the mountain of paperwork, the crush of cases and people, as well as the very real possibility that the law cannot adjudicate every single matter and point of conflict among human beings.

A focused, unrelenting film, Farhadi's sets up most of the film in the tight quarters of the family's apartment, the small car traveling the streets of Tehran, or the bustling chaos of the police station (home of the overworked judge). No one in this film is a stereotype; everything that I thought I knew was wrong. Standouts include Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Maadi) as the married, contentious couple.

Unexpected, emotional, overwhelming, Farhadi's cast leads a brilliant display of intensity and emotion as "way leads on to way," and consequences of actions pile up. However, I should state, this is not a labyrinthian maze of legalistic hodepodge; this is not a mystery or criminal thriller. The actions and consequences are grounded in the very real reality of a grieving family, an unhinged father waiting outside of a school, the veracity of promising on a Quran for a person of faith, the idea that pride is more important than a financial settlement.

Explosive in its own quiet way, A Separation exposed for me my own complete ignorance of modern day Iran. As a well-read person, I still felt floored by the multiplicity of cultures, classes, faith levels in this story. The Iran I thought I knew from the news and debates about policy is light years away from this very human, very tragic, very painful story of the separation within a family, within a community, within a country, within a world?

And the final shot is devastating, artful, and open-ended in the most frustrating and brilliant ways that great art can be.

I cannot recommend this movie more highly. It is a masterpiece, a triumph of acting, writing, directing.

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