A Separation (2011)
Dir. Asghar Farhadi
4.5 out of 5
A Separation is not so much about a difficult divorce as it is about loyalty, truth, and the vicissitudes of the Iranian justice system. The affecting domestic drama of estranged husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and wife Simin (the striking Leila Hatami) takes a backseat to the slow-burning intrigue that envelops Moaadi when he hires a working-class woman (Sareh Bayat) to look after his Alzheimer's-afflicted father. A series of misunderstandings and miscalculations lands Moaadi in hot water with the law, suddenly charged with murder after Bayat suffers a miscarriage while on the job.
The audience quite literally plays jury as the details of the case are hashed out in front of no one but the litigants and a judge operating out of a tiny office in the local courthouse. To Western eyes, these sessions have the look of informal hearings, but they are official proceedings that can produce a binding verdict. The process doesn't appear to involve any lawyers. There is much talk of honor and of God. Though Moaadi and Bayat are gradually convinced to negotiate a financial settlement, we hear plenty of times that it's not about the money. What's important is whose word can be trusted most. even though both parties waver when attempting to pass their stories through their personal moral barometers - for Bayat, the Qu'ran, and for Moaadi, his studious daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the real-life daughter of the film's director).
Watching the young girl's confidence in her father crumble is especially heartbreaking, and a crucial part of the emotional fabric of a film that has a tendency to put the concerns of its female characters on the back burner. After her compelling arguments for divorce in the opening sequence, Hatami disappears for long stretches of the film as it shifts almost exclusively to Moaadi's perspective. But it's probably this upending of expectations that makes A Separation so compelling. People make decisions big and small without knowing exactly where it will take them. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi has a similar perspective in weaving the threads of his unassuming dramatic tapestry, eventually rewarding the viewer who knows that life has a knack for unraveling at the corners.