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Friday, 17 February 2012 00:00

Moral Dilemmas Dominate 'A Separation'

worldfilm.about.com worldfilm.about.com
Written by Diane Carson
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Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi's A Separation opens with a Rashomon-like question-and-answer session before an unseen judge. Husband Nader and wife Simin sit facing the camera, debating the necessity of a divorce Simin advocates. She insists on raising their 11-year-old daughter in a more equitable society, one not separated in terms of gender, class, religion and modern vs. traditional values.

But Nader asserts that he must stay to care for his elderly father who suffers from Alzheimer's. After Simin moves out of their apartment, Nader hires Razieh, an impoverished, working class, very religious woman caretaker for his father. A series of unfortunate events sends them all back to the court to plead their convictions when an irate Nader accuses Razieh of theft. Both families square off over an increasingly complicated moral dilemma that implicates multiple inequities.

At this year's Telluride Film Festival, Farhadi said that in his plays and five films, he's never written a negative character. He explained that in modern tragedy the much more interesting choice rests between good and good so viewers don't know whom they'll be pleased to see emerge victorious. It is exactly this moral complexity and ambiguity that makes A Separation spellbinding. In addition, Farhadi divides story time among the primary characters and keeps his camera equidistant from them, thereby maintaining a delicate balance in viewers' identification. Compositions that divide individuals from each other further intensify the theme of separation.

Addressing the critical class differences that emerge in key scenes, Farhadi said, "Where there's a war between two classes, there's far more danger than real war because it is not visible and can't be seen but is actually happening." Clearly striking a chord, A Separation is setting box office records in Iran. Farhadi fields expected criticisms while walking a fine line between the accepted and the censored. He doesn't complain, saying, "I've chosen my career freely," and A Separation proves he's chosen wisely and to our benefit.

A Separation won the Berlin Film Festival's prestigious Golden Bear and the Silver Bear for the male and for the female acting ensemble. In Persian with English subtitles. At a Landmark Cinema.

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