A Separation (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Together for fourteen years, Simin (Leila Hatami) filed a divorce against Nader (Peyman Moadi) because she was convinced that their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), could have better future abroad. Nader, adamant that Termeh could flourish in Iran, wouldn’t sign the papers and the judge believed that Simin’s reason for getting a divorce was simply not an irreconcilable difference. Simin moved back to her mother’s house which meant Nader’s father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), inflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, needed a new caretaker. Recommended by Simin’s friend, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), with child for four months, was hired last-minute by the desperate Nader, a decision that proved to be more trouble than what he bargained for. “A Separation,” written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, captured human drama at its finest because the filmmakers were able to present conflict as is, from the beauty and ugliness of strong relationships to the uncertainty of new ones, without using a typical dramatic parabola as a crutch to make the material more digestible. From its opening scene, the screenplay bristled with implications. For instance, the husband and wife faced the camera, the judge, as they tried to convince him that their respective side was right. Although we heard the judge’s voice, not once did we have a chance to lay eyes on him. In other words, the writer-director forced us to take the role of the arbiter, trusting us that we were capable of listening, wise enough to be aware that each side had their share of truths and inaccuracies, and consider that perhaps it was too soon to submit a final evaluation of what scant information we’ve been handed. Its opening scene was so important in setting the tone and level of intelligence of the rest of the picture, every time an important event occurred, I found myself looking back at Simin and Nader’s faces as they tried to communicate their sadness and anger while grappling with the fact that they still cared for one another. I admired that the spouses were not caricatures in that they were constantly out to get each other and readily available for yet another irritating screaming match just because one thing did not go his or her way. It was easy to feel that a divorce did not simply mean a chance to erase what they had. These were smart and sensitive adults with real values and principles. We may not always understand or agree where they were coming from, but that was a part of the film’s theme: the attempt to put oneself in another person’s shoes and how tragic it can be for us, as well as for those closest to us, if we choose to treat or think of others like they are less than. Ultimately, despite verbal exchanges so full of rage and vitriol, the film was an advocate of peace: peace in terms of our relationship with those who are strangers to us, with people we learned to care about, and, perhaps more importantly, peace in our own minds. Can we truly lead a happy life without peace of mind? Have you ever had a day when you constantly found yourself looking over your shoulder? I did, for about six months, and it was such a dark period in my life, I considered several escape routes that scared me to the bone. Even now, just thinking about it, I remain grateful to have persisted. If there was anything I learned from that experience, it was that having and enjoying a peace of mind is a state so evanescent, keeping it requires hard work. “Jodaeiye Nader az Simin” posed big questions by focusing on two small families, but it offered no convenient answer. Even through the credits, I found my ears begging to hear one. Like its knack toward delivering suspense but avoiding cheap thrills, there was not a cheap answer here. What we get from the experience is equal to what we put into it.