Synopsis: Simin (Leila Hatami) and her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) are a middle class couple living in Tehran. Simin wants to move abroad so that their twelve year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), can have a better life.
Nader refuses, since his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) is stricken with Alzheimer's and is too ill. The disagreement has reached a point where Simin is looking to divorce her husband. But a family court official denies Simin's request.
Simin moves out and temporarily stays with her mother (Shirin Yazdanbakhsh). At Simin's recommendation, Nader hires a housekeeper named Razieh (Sareh Bayat). Razieh is from a religious working class family, and her husband Houjat (Shahab Hosseini) is deeply in debt. She takes on the job without her husband's knowledge, which is forbidden by custom. But her plan is for Houjat to eventually take the job, which Nader agrees to.
But on the day that Houjat is to take over, he is jailed for reasons pertaining to his huge debts. Razieh continues, but caring for Nader's ill father turns out to be an overwhelming task. On one fateful afternoon, a serious incident sets a number of dramatic revelations, misunderstandings, and life-changing events into motion...
The Good: A Separation has a highly realistic feel, and I had to keep reminding myself that the people on screen were just actors. Director Asghar Farhadi packs a lot of human issues into the story, which include religion, familial obligation, death, and love. All are very well presented, balanced, and not once does the story fly off in too many directions.
The characters are distinct and three dimensional. And even though the story focuses on real-life issues that could happen to anyone, Farhadi presents them in a psychologically complex way. Yet, the viewer should have no serious problems identifying with them. Every person has plausible strengths as well as human frailties.
The Bad: For those who don't speak Farsi, the film's quick editing makes a challenging task out of keeping up with the subtitles.
Who would like this film: Writing as a Westerner with no access to what goes on in Iran beyond what I see/read in news reports, A Separation is for those who are curious to take a look at the lives of ordinary Iranian citizens.
I'm not sure how representative and accurate the film is in its portrayal of secular middle class people vs. poor religious ones, but the film is pretty eye-opening in terms of exposing us to a different culture that we often don't have an opportunity to learn about.
A Separation isn't for everyone. I'd recommend this to those who regularly watch foreign films and have knowledge of, or are curious about Middle Eastern culture. There is no music soundtrack nor are there any special effects to accompany the viewing experience.
Instead, the emotional intensity comes directly from the strength of the actors, interactions between characters, and the story's subject matter. And those elements certainly do create a powerful film.