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Thread: A SEPARATION (Asghar Farhadi/Iran/2011)

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    A SEPARATION (Asghar Farhadi/Iran/2011)

    A Separation (2011)

    The fifth feature from writer/director Ashgar Farhadi is likely to be the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. It will probably be the last of numerous awards A Separation has received since its premiere at the 2011 Berlinale. It is the most recent of a long list of Iranian films to receive praise and acclaim at international festivals. What is unique is that the film had a relatively wide and profitable theatrical release in Iran whereas most Iranian films admired abroad had not managed to do that. Farhadi states: "What's the point of making a movie if it can't be seen by the 70 million people in my home country?"

    Historically, there has been a separation between Iranian films that are successful abroad and those that Iranian critics and audiences support. For instance, the leading Iranian film journal recently conducted a critics’ poll and no films by Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi made it into the list of best films. A Separation is likely to become the most successful Iranian film at the U.S. box office. The film appears to transcend not only the divide between local and global reception but also that between commercial and so-called art films. As such, it creates a dialogic space; it provides an opportunity for conversation between entities polarized by political, religious, and aesthetic differences.

    A Separation opens with a scene set in a divorce court where Nader and Simin, a middle-class couple married for 14 years, argue whether it is best for their 11-year-old daughter Termeh to live abroad with Simin or stay in Iran with her father and her grandfather, who suffers from dementia. The spouses are framed frontally in a way that equates the points of view of the camera, the judge and the viewer. Nader hires a pregnant woman named Razieh to take care of his father during the day. She brings her 4 year-old daughter to work but does not tell Hodjat, her unemployed husband, because he would object to it on religious grounds. Nader comes home one day to find his father alone and medically distressed. Razieh's neglect of the old man, her miscarriage and an alleged theft compel characters to make moral decisions. The script, performances, and the mise-en-scene are intended to create ambiguity regarding the correctness and appropriateness of these decisions. From the opening scene, the viewer is positioned strategically to ascertain the facts and judge the characters.

    The four adult principals strive, with some difficulty, to abide by their moral codes. Basically, Nader has a strong sense of filial duty, Simin privileges honesty, Razieh is guided by Islamic authority and Hodjat by his self-image as a victim of a socially unjust system. However, they are not defined by these sketchy traits. The film’s ambiguity and subtlety immunize the characters against reductive interpretations. Farhadi endeavors to make it difficult to sympathize with one character at the expense of another. However, I think that the characterization of Hodjat as volatile and prone to violence is too extreme to maintain the even-handedness and authorial objectivity that A Separation aims to sustain. This is, perhaps, the film’s only weakness.

    The title of the film refers not only to a marital separation but also applies to the socio-economic, political and religious divisions evident in contemporary Iranian society. A Separation provides a very astute dramatization of conflict based on social class and how it interacts with religious practice, education, and other social determinants. It is a very difficult thing to accomplish given the censorship of film content by the Iranian government. The only other Iranian film I have seen that manages to broach this issue is Crimson Gold (2003). It was written by Kiarostami, directed by Panahi, and never shown in an Iranian theater.

    A Separation’s moral conscience and, as such, the viewer’s surrogate is Termeh, played by Sarina Farhadi, the director's daughter. The smartly dressed, bespectacled girl is constantly placed in a position to evaluate the actions of the adult characters in the film. Ultimately it will be her decision whether to live with her mother or with her father. The ending is suspended before Termeh decides so the viewer can only speculate. It is a testament to the film’s fairness and complexity that I was deeply invested in Termeh's decision but I did not have a rooting interest.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 02-13-2012 at 01:57 AM.

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    Thanks for this, Oscar. You make excellent points about this now celebrated Iranian film.
    The title of the film refers not only to a marital separation but also applies to the socio-economic, political and religious divisions evident in contemporary Iranian society. A Separation provides a very astute dramatization of conflict based on social class and how it interacts with religious practice, education, and other social determinants. It is a very difficult thing to accomplish given the censorship of film content by the Iranian government. The only other Iranian film I have seen that manages to broach this issue is Crimson Gold (2003). It was written by Kiarostami, directed by Panahi, and never shown in an Iranian theater.
    Successfully dogging the censors is an essential task in Iran if you don't want to wind up like poor Jafar Panahi (I wish his This Is Not a Film was up for the Oscar instead).

    Of course you know because you follow everything here closely that this was part of the New York Film Festival last fall and I reviewed it then in the Festival Coverage section. And so you would also know that I respect A Separation, but I do not much like it. I, like you, appreciated its extraordinary even-handedness, hence titling my review "How everybody's wrong, and why."

    I wrote, and this remains a good statement of my feelings and thoughts about it:
    Notable for an unusually intricate and well-worked-out plot that poses many moral issues while remaining curiously bloodless in human terms, Separation almost gets bogged down in the numbing specifics of telenovela-like daily melodrama at first as it sets up its basic issue. When if finally gets going the film takes on almost a mystery-story complexity and, if it's never quite resolved at the end, well, that's life. With this web of fault-finding and recriminations that somehow cancel each other out, in A Separation Asghar Farhadi may have made the quintessential Iranian film.
    A Separation is very well done. I think anyone can admire the way the tangled sequence of events is kept clear and not only clear, compelling in the sense that, whether or not one cares, one is curious, and sees how important the events are to the principals. There is a moral dilemma, a social dilemma, and there are all the practical issues that come up through the faux pas and cross accusations that occur when the young woman is brought in to take care of the old father after the wife insists on moving out. The wife is an independent woman. But she is stuck in the country. The regime has got her by the balls. She takes it out on her family That causes chaos. Everybody is right, and everybody is n the wrong. The film is evenhanded in dealing with everybody. There are no heros or villains. That is intelligent and fair. However for me it makes everyone equally unlikeable, and the film unmoving.

    And yet, isn't a litle ironic that after so many celebrated and admired Iranian films, this may be the one that get a Best Foreign Oscar? But then those awards are notoriously ironic or pointless. What happened here is that A Separation has met if I'm not mistaken more universal acclaim among US film reviewers than any other Persian movie, as well as, perhaps, favor in Iran itself? or at least in other countries, so that as you suggest, Oscar, people will be talking about it all over the world. I guess that's what the very odd phrase "creates a dialogic space" means. But what you may not see as I do is that there is a Separation between Iranian cultures and other cultures that this film makes extremely clear and that is extremely off-putting, and that lies in the persistence with which everybody blames everybody else. This is an aspect of Persian life that I find intractable and not, ultimately, morally admirable.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-13-2012 at 08:12 AM.

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    I think it is rather provocative to characterize "everybody blames everybody else" as an "aspect of Persian life". I'm not in a position to argue either way but it is quite a statement.

    Awards are consequential in that they generate a great deal of attention. In this case, consider the fact that we are thinking about showing A Separation at our one-screener only if it wins an Oscar because the film is currently having a long engagement at one of our competitors. We figure that the Oscar will bring the film to the attention of enough people who did not see it at the theater that is currently showing it to justify a new booking next month.

    I was "moved" by the film but, more importantly, I found it quite insightful about a number of issues, including stuff about people and relationships that transcends the time and place in which it unfolds.

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    Yes, my statement is about the culture rather than just the film and therefore must sound distinctly provocative, but it was an element in my response to the overall action and being based on years of personal observation and reading it seemed right to include mention of it.

    As for awards I never said they are unimportant in marketing a film, I said the Best Foreign award is notoriously ironic, as are sometimes the Best Picture ones. Contrary to the Latin saying, there is much disputing of matters of taste.

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