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Divorce Iranian Style

A Separation (2011)

Sydney Film Festival 2011

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, “A Separation” is a gripping whodunit under the guise of a domestic drama. Set in a strikingly progressive Iran, the film plays out almost like a cautionary tale against Westernization. Two women’s defiance of their husbands set in motion a series of increasingly dire consequences. But unlike most thrillers, the film doesn’t rely on a cheap-shot twist to hit the audience like a ton of bricks. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi deftly foreshadows the proceedings without underestimating the moviegoers’ intelligence and sends more chills with each revelatory déjà vu.

The film begins with Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) in divorce court. They had planned to emigrate for the sake of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the filmmaker’s daughter), but Nader ultimately does not have the heart to leave his Alzheimer’s-plagued father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) behind. Even though the court grants the divorce, Termeh chooses to stay with Nader in hopes that Simin will return. Meanwhile, Simin finds the deeply religious Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to care for her father-in-law when Nader is at work. But things go downhill when Nader returns home to find his father alone and unconscious, with one hand tied to the bed.

Murder is the charge, and it’s Nader’s word against Razieh’s. To elaborate any further would spoil the fun. The way Mr. Farhadi masterfully unfolds the story is truly something to behold. Acting is superb all around, including Shahab Hosseini and Kimia Hosseini respectively as Razieh’s hotheaded husband and young daughter. Glances exchanged between the two children in the climactic scene cruelly expose the ultimate act of betrayal.

As pure entertainment, “A Separation” is flawless. But as social commentary, one could infer a conservative agenda. Much of the collateral damage in the film stems from characters not carrying out their daily lives according to the Koran. But from our vantage point, this seems like more of an indictment of Western values than of secularism. It directly calls into question a few things — divorce, elder care, gender equality and white lies — that are routine in our part of the world. Given what has happened to Jafar Panahi though, one is inclined to overlook the political slant in Mr. Farhadi’s work as long as his talents are allowed expression.


Opens on Dec. 30 in New York and Los Angeles.

Written, produced and directed by Asghar Farhadi; director of photography, Mahmood Kalari; edited by Hayedeh Safiyari; sets and costumes by Keyvan Moghadam; released by Sony Pictures Classics. In Persian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Leila Hatami (Simin), Peyman Moadi (Nader), Shahab Hosseini (Hodjat), Sareh Bayat (Razieh), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Babak Karimi (Judge), Ali-Asghar Shahbazi (Nader’s Father), Shirin Yazdanbakhsh (Simin’s Mother), Kimia Hosseini (Somayeh) and Merila Zarei (Ms. Ghahraei).


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