2011, Movies

A Separation [Jodaeiye Nader az Simin] (2011, Asghar Farhadi)

The is an unrelentingly bleak tragedy about the dissolution of a marriage in Iran that leads to a misunderstanding that compounds into a destructive feud between two families. It is well shot, well constructed, and well acted and it was a chore to watch as a result. (I mean that as a compliment.)

This film can be interpreted as a plea to couples and families to work out their differences and stay together, as terrible things will result if they don’t. There could be another conclusion that only people can solve their problems and the state shouldn’t be involved. But, given the complicity of everyone but the children in what ensues, I’m not sure that interpretation is correct. It’s the easy interpretation, I think. But while observing is not always condoning nor is observation is not always moral judgement either.

The film is super realist, there’s basically no music until the credits and it feels like it is set in a real place. Most scenes are indoors and there is a sense of claustrophobia about everything. (This feels deliberate.) The courthouse, or whatever it is, feels like a real, awful place to go to. It almost feels like a hospital with not enough staff.

I love how the film is bookmarked with scenes that recall each other, both shot from the perspective of the magistrate/judge. And the final shot is one of those great shots in cinema in which the full weight of the film just sits there.

I haven’t talked about the plot – it’s a series of tragic conflicts that feel petty and pretty real, especially if this depiction of Iran’s justice system is accurate. But I don’t really want to tell you what happens because I think part of why the film is compelling is because you think this film is just about two parents who can’t get along and then, well, something happens.

Anyway, it’s extremely assured and pretty uncomfortable to watch. I don’t have much at all to say in criticism. One of the best films of its year.


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