(trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at Film Forum.
Nader is not exactly a fundamentalist either, but he is stubborn. He also must care for his Alzheimer’s stricken father, though Simin considers this a questionable excuse. Since divorce is not an easy no-fault proposition in Iran, she moves back in with her parents as their case drags on. Requiring help with his father, Nader hires Razieh as an in-house aide. She is poor, uneducated, extremely religious, and married to the abusive Houjat.
She only accepts the position in place of Houjat when the deadbeat is thrown in jail for his debts. Yet, as soon as she appears to settle into the routine of the household, a moment of chaos turns their world upside down. Suddenly, Nader is on trial for causing the death of Razieh’s unborn child while the thuggish Houjat harasses his family.
Granted, A Separation’s portrayal of Iranian jurisprudence does not inspire a lot of confidence, but it is almost the least of Nader’s problems. Instead, he becomes his worst enemy, responding to Razieh and Houjat in the worst possible way at every juncture. Yet explaining his decisions to his acutely sensitive daughter is often his greatest challenge.
Much like Farhadi’s Tribeca award winning About Elly, Separation vividly depicts how one tragic mistake compounds over and over again. It is an intense film, almost driving audiences to the brink of exhaustion. Like many of the persecuted Jafar Panahi’s films, it shines a searing spotlight on the divisions of Iranian society, largely cleaving along professional and secular-as-they-dare versus poor and fundamentalist lines. Ostensibly, Nader and Simin should have the upper hand, given their superior resources, but this is Iran.
Separation is also smart and scrupulously realistic on the micro level as well. The relationship dynamic between Simin and Nader is particularly insightful, rendered with great sensitivity by leads Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi. We clearly understand this is a couple with a lot of history together who do not hate each other. They are unable to make it work, but they cannot stop trying. Likewise, teenaged Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter) gives remarkably finely-calibrated performance as the insecure and understandably confused Termeh.