a separation

has anyone reviewed this? i can’t see it. regardless.

this film starts with a couple talking to a judge. the camera is on the couple. the judge is invisible throughout but we can hear his questions. he sounds very reasonable. the couple discusses heatedly the question of their separation. the wife wants to leave the country; the husband says it’s impossible because he has to take care of his ill elderly father. they are both fetching (the wife is beautiful), articulate, passionate. they mostly look at the judge. neither gives an inch. the judge says that the only option is for them to separate. enter the problem of the 11-year-old daughter. the wife wants the daughter to go with her. the husband says the daughter doesn’t want to go. the judge (if memory serves) leaves it at that. the film starts as a family drama.

now alone in the house with his daughter and his ailing father, who has advanced alzheimer’s, the father is compelled to hire a caretakar. whereas our family is middle-class and secular, the caretaker is a religious woman from a lower class. there’s something long-suffering about her. she dresses in a long black chador and constantly arranges it around herself (wikipedia tells me that the chador is a typically iranian female garment. it also tells me that the hijab is mandatory for women in iran). the woman is poor and pregnant. she takes the job unbeknownst to her husband, who would be angry to know that she’s working. she always has her little daughter with her. the film evolves into a class drama.

mayhem ensues. all characters, including the husband who didn’t want his wife to work and the original wife who didn’t leave the country after all, end up in front of the judge. the justice system appears to be based on private audiences between the interested parties and a judge. the parties argue rather informally in front of the judge. the judge patiently and calmly tries to sort things out. it’s a smaller, more domesticated, un-hystrionic version of judge judy. there are no robes and no elevated benches. the judge sits simply behind a desk. the complainant and the accused sit on regular chairs or stand before the judge in the judge’s modest, small office. there is no obvious presence of police or security. occasionally a young soldier is called to carry one or another away, but it’s all extremely informal. no exercise of force or brutality. a refreshing break from the relentless authoritarianism of the justice system in american films. the film turns into a courtroom drama.


the daughter, who has been portrayed until this point as demure, quiet, serious, and acutely observant, assumes a more important role. suddenly, she becomes the protagonist and the soul of the movie. i loved the casting. the actress is tall and gangly, maybe taller than her age. her thin face is always framed by a rather forbidding black hijab (the mother wears colorful scarfs, but i think this is the girl’s school uniform). she’s pale, not particularly pretty, with thick glasses and intelligent eyes. as the movie turns to her, you realize it was about her all along, about the plight of children caught up in stupid, juvenile, stubborn, seemingly-important adult squabbles. and then the other children in the film come to mind, and you realize it was all about them.

the last part is startling and moving and heartbreaking. it’s not that director asghar farhadi dismisses adults’ pain and problems, but the highlighting of the suffering of children caught in family wars they see in terms that escape the adults (much simpler, easier to sort out terms) is incredibly powerful. and then it’s difficult not to see the whole thing as a metaphor for wars and nuclear power and big superpowers and civilians caught between the pissing matches of the plutocracies of the world.

3 thoughts on “a separation

  1. Brilliant film; one of the best I’ve seen all year (there were some Fb conversations floating about with Reynolds and myself and maybe Arnab a few weeks ago; I always think you are following those threads for some inane reason). I was so caught up in the intimate, knotty, micro-observations of middle class and working class life in Tehran that I never thought of the film as allegory, but it makes sense. No easy answers in this world, though one response I have to your post is that the film is indeed about the eleven-year-old (the mother wants to get her away from Iran while the father, sympathetic to his wife’s intent, cannot leave his own father which seems to generate a tricky yet accessible critique of patriarchy). And the other little girl (the daughter of the working class woman) has many lovely moments . . . her perspective on things were also much appreciated. What did you make of the ending? Heart-breaking stuff and so well edited and shot. I appreciated the use of frames within frames and how such shots often worked to isolate the characters from each other. I remember the smart use of reflecting surfaces as well though to what point I can not remember.

  2. hiya jeff. i do follow fb threads like a maniac, but you know how fb is, it decides which stuff you want to see. i guess it didn’t want me to see this. also, when mike posted (i saw the original post) i had no yet seen the movie.

    the ending: well, the adults win, yes? and the child is again saddled with an impossible choice.

    i loved the young daughter of the nanny. i loved when the two girls looked at each other with those sad, serious eyes. and then there’s also that baby that was miscarried.

    it’s also interesting that both father and mother should be so overtly kind and considerate toward the 11-year-old but also subtly and constantly disrespectful of her. she has no voice. the parents keep forcing her to make their decisions for them and she folds, literally, bending her lanky frame and becoming smaller.

    i noticed that a lot of the film shot by handheld cameras. a nice, intimate feel.

    now let me go look for that fb thread.

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