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Review: A Separation

Family drama
By PETER KEOUGH  |  January 26, 2012
3.5 3.5 Stars



Somehow, despite an increasingly repressive regime that has jailed many prominent filmmakers, including the world renowned auteur Jafar Panahi, Iranian cinema continues to produce some of the world's subtlest and most illuminating films about the relationships between men and women, and the conflicts inherent in all social units, starting with the family.

Asghar Farhadi's superbly scripted, tautly plotted, and expertly acted melodrama, winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film and shortlisted for an Oscar in the same category, begins in a divorce court. Simin (Leila Hatami), a successful doctor, and her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) are there to explain to the presiding imam their irreconcilable differences. She wants to emigrate to the West to escape the diminished opportunities for women in the Islamic Republic. He has to stay to take care of his father, nearly helpless in a late stage of Alzheimer's disease. In the middle is their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Farhadi's daughter Sarina), who is leaning towards her father's position, especially when her determined mother moves out of their apartment. As the divorce lumbers towards a settlement, Nader must find someone to take care of his father while he's at work. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a downtrodden woman from a working class family whose belligerent, unemployed husband Hodjat (a scary and complex Shahab Hosseini) instigates trouble because of his fundamentalist values and his financial desperation.

Farhadi's straightforward narrative and detailed, naturalistic style doesn't prepare you for the film's abrupt and drastic twists as its scope expands from a single privileged Teheran family's dilemma to a microcosm of Iranian society and a mirror of our own. As is characteristic of the best Iranian films, it is genuinely humanistic — disrupting expectations, overturning stereotypes, and finding empathy with those who initially seem beyond redemption.

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