A Separation (2011)

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This year’s golden bear winner at the Berlin film festival is a complex drama, emotionally draining and with many different viewpoints and themes.

The story starts off with an arguing couple, Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran with her daughter, whereas Nader (Peyman Moadi) does not want to leave his sick father behind without any treatment. Simin files for a divorce, but is denied it by a judge, so decides to move out, while the daughter stays with the father. Events are further complicated when Nader hires a carer for his father, the woman in question is actually pregnant and doesn’t tell her husband that she has accepted the job. An incident between her and the father leads to Nader kicking her out and all sorts of events spiralling out of control.

The opening single shot scene with Nader and Simin’s full on debate in front of the judge really kicks the drama into high gear and keenly sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is key that the camera remains tightly focused on the couples faces without breaking away, the leads beautifully bounce off each other and the tension builds and builds from the ground up. The scene’s explosive yet simplistic nature really draws you into the heart of what A Separation is all about.

Director Asghar Farhadi’s intimate shooting style captures a quiet pain and loneliness running throughout the characters, the focus is tight and we get a number of different shots including a profound one of the carer’s little girl with her face squeezed to her mother’s tummy. It is such a delicate yet sad shot which sums up perfectly the girls emotional state.

As things progress slowly we get a terrifying moment when the father unattended escapes the apartment and is very close to being run over, but at the same time we see the poor helper who must look after her daughter while working, the distress of this young woman with a million things weighing her down, is just tragic to watch.

The story is perfectly paced, and carefully told with the smallest of events blowing up into something altogether more serious, the emotional intensity under the service is subtly built up, but the performances more than match it. The leads (who also won prizes in Berlin) finely pitch their movements, the facial expressions are well reserved and naturalistic, and you see them go though every emotion in a credible, dramatic and believable way. However all the cast are excellent, with Sareh Bayat the highlight as the pregnant Razieh and a very discipline turn by young Sarina Farhadi as Nader and Simin’s daughter.

The debate scenes are just riveting and unrelenting, the beauty of the story is that each of the central characters are deeply flawed and yet you empathise with each one at different times, and the arguments on both sides are finely balanced with the film leaving the viewing to make up their own minds. There are also some sharp plot twists neatly worked in to add to the tension. The jury got this one spot on, it is a master piece.

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat
Runtime: 123 mins
Country: Iran

Film Rating: ★★★★★

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