VOD film review: A Separation
Ivan Radford | On 09, Oct 2014
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaddi
Watch A Separation online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
Back in 2012, A Separation became the first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Two years on, it still packs an almighty punch.
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, it follows a middle-class couple (Nader and Simin) who decide to divorce. But that simple idea, summed up in the deceptively short title, has ramifications that spread throughout society.
Simin goes to live with her parents when her application for a separation is refused, leaving Nader to hire a young, poor woman to look after his father with Alzheimer’s. She, in turn, must get permission from her husband to take the job, but she doesn’t seek it, instead taking her daughter secretly to Nader’s home while she cleans up after him. But she is loyal to her spiritual responsibilities: when she has to mop up her patient’s urine, she first phones a hotline for permission.
Farhadi frames every step as a direct result of these external pressures: requirements to obey, conform, follow regulation and, above all, keep one’s head down. But these are what slowly drive the complex situation to horrific ends, from personal injuries and tied up pensioners to cover-ups and pay-offs.
All the while, the longest divorce proceedings in the history of long divorce proceedings continue. Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaddi are fantastically believable as the main couple, each frustrated and convinced of their own rights, as they shoot daggers at each other with their eyes. Meanwhile, Sareh Bayat’s young, pregnant cleaner is painfully conflicted, as their marital squabble takes over her life.
It’s a gigantic human car crash that unfolds in ultra-slow motion – one that Farhadi captures in realistic, low-key detail. The engaging, natural performances from the cast keep you hooked, despite the two-hour runtime. It soon becomes apparent, though, that any resolution will only be reached through these people squabbling loudly in front of a judge. Subtle social criticism in the form of a devastating family drama, A Separation leans in as lives and duties are shattered; and then sits back and waits for country’s outdated legal system to make sense of it all. Needless to say, it fails.