Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020

Film Review

A Separation

Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with what has become his most quoted line: "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". Unhappy families are universal, and the conflicts and sadness that characterize them cut across all cultures and social classes. Even in a country like Iran, with a highly conservative, repressive society, especially for women, the same family conflicts exist, although surely exacerbated by the strictures that women must endure. Despite the great difficulties and heavy censorship for film makers there, they have produced some outstanding films in the past few years. These post revolutionary films have been labeled New Wave, and include directors such as the accomplished Abbas Kiarostami and Majid Majidi. Now, Ashgar Farhadi, an Iranian film maker whose earlier films have won a number of European awards, has written and directed "A Separation", an honest, direct and sympathetic look at the conflict between a husband and wife, not taking sides with either. The wife, Simin, and the husband, Nader, are an educated middle class Iranian couple living in a modern apartment in Teheran. They have an eleven year old daughter, Termeh, who is anxious and resentful that her mother wants a divorce. Both parents want to move out of the country because they feel it would improve Termeh's future. Simin has managed, with much difficulty, to get exit visas, which expire in a month. But Nader does not want to leave now, because he has to care for his father, who has severe Alzheimer's. Simin says that "He doesn't even know you're his son", but Nader says that "I know he is my father". So Simin decides to move back to her family, hoping that Termeh will go with her. Termeh refuses to go, and is angry with her mother for leaving, hoping that remaining with her father will cause her mother to move back in. But without Simin to help care for Nader's father, Nader has to hire someone to help during the day when he is working at the bank. He finds a woman, Razieh, who is married, very religious, and poor. She desperately needs the work, but is afraid of her volatile husband knowing that she is caring for a man, even one old and demented. She even calls a religious figure to see if this is permitted. Razieh takes the job, bringing her young daughter with her, and soon things unravel for everyone.

The director shows us two people, Simin and Nader, both decent, loving and well intentioned. Each is stubborn, and convinced the other is wrong, both trying to do the right thing, as each sees it. Nader is not only stubborn and proud, but needs to be in control. And Simin's options are greatly limited by the conservative nature of Iranian society and laws. They still love each other, but cannot live together anymore. Simin is upset that Nader doesn't even ask her to return, even though he clearly needs and misses her.

"A Separation" is filmed in a Dogme 95 (think Lars von Trier) like manner, with handheld cameras that are often very close to the characters. Most scenes appear to be shot on location, including the apartment, and show life on a micro level in Teheran with much detail about Iranian society. The status of women in their society is not shown in caricature here. The scenes in front of the judge also say much about contemporary Iran. One judge says "Your problem is a small problem", which of course is not true to the characters. I wondered if the film's title doesn't also allude to the divisions in Iranian society, which is certainly a hot topic in America today. Even without dialogue this would be an absorbing film. As in Dogme 95, there is no music, except as the credits roll. But it is the ensemble acting that soars. Although Nader, Simin, and Termeh have the majority of screen time and are marvelous, even minor characters are outstanding. None of the actors are familiar (except possibly the beautiful Leila Hatami, who plays Simin) to American audiences. There is such empathy for each characters' situation; there are no villains here, except for the system itself. Farhadi shows us good, but flawed people trying to cope and do their best, and the result is a powerful, affecting film. "A Separation" has been nominated for best foreign film by the Academy, and should be a strong contender. This is a great film. I loved it, was very moved by its humanity, and saw it twice. Now playing at the Embarcadero.

Return to the List of Film Reviews

Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com