A SEPARATION – Review by Susan Granger

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Acclaimed as one of the best foreign films of 2011, writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s meditation on marital conflict is set in contemporary Iran, where two couples are dragged before a judge to defend themselves and their legal, moral and religious beliefs in a family court.

As the drama begins, after a year-and-a-half of bureaucratic aggravation, Simin (Leila Hatami) has finally received permission for her family to emigrate from urban Tehran and is trying to convince her secular, banker husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) and adolescent daughter Termeh (played by the director’s daughter, Sarina Farhadi) to opt for a better life. But middle-class, moderate Nader feels he must stay to care for his frail father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. So when frustrated Simin, who is a doctor, moves back to her parents’ home, Nader hires poor, pious Razieh (Sareh Bayet) to take care of his father during the day, unbeknownst to her debt-ridden, unemployed husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseni). When pregnant Razieh is subsequently injured in a tragic accident, the foursome winds up before an Iranian judge and, eventually, it’s up to confused yet intuitive, 11 year-old Termeh to decide what her future will be.

Filled with ethical and cultural issues about the condition of women in Iran, the script is complicated and somewhat confusing unless one is familiar with the Islamic theocracy that has dominated Iran’s 70 million people since the 1979 revolution. But the human condition it depicts is universal, and it’s not difficult to identify with the deceits and philosophical dilemma faced by each of the characters.

“As Ingmar Bergman used to say, messages are for the telegraph office,” Asghar Farhadi (“About Elly”) told interviews. “There’s a difference between intention and messages. My intention was to create a story and let you interpret what it means. To me, that is more effective filmmaking than to just give a manifesto or slogans.”

In Persian with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Separation” is an ambiguous, enigmatic 8, revolving around the termination of a marriage.

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