Often it takes me some time before I can watch a film I've been yearning to see since it was in theaters. It keeps moving down on my Netflix queue as I continue to add new pictures on top of it.
For the last three months, the Iranian film "A Separation" has been gathering dust next to my television. Last week, on a night when I couldn't find a single thing worth my time on the tube, I tossed the film in the DVD player and settled in for what I thought would be a downer.
"A Separation," written and directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, is the first picture from that country to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film. It did so in 2012. The reviews at the time were ecstatic, and I was sorry I missed it.
I now can say the film deserved its recognition by the academy. The acting is breathtaking; the script is taut and incisive. The cinematography does exactly what film photography is supposed to do: Tell the story as if it had no words.
A contentious urban, upper-class Iranian couple - the wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) is a doctor, and the husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi), a banker - has a bright, 11-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), who sees, hears and understands more than they discern. Termeh is shy and always seems to be captured lingering in the background.
But then that's the point. Termeh is the unspoken focus of the story who, unwillingly, disrupts the family's life. The couple wants to move to Europe to rear Termeh in an environment that offers her more of a future than what she can expect in Iran. But Nader's father suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and he doesn't want to leave him. Simin takes the matter to court, but in Iran men have the final word. And Nader will not let his now-estranged wife leave with the girl.
The title refers to all sorts of separations in a nation divided by economic standing, gender and issues of faith. And that's what I found so compelling. (Another matter, involving an uneducated caretaker for Nader's father, also ends up in court.) Farhadi leaves us to decide for ourselves how the film is resolved. But one thing is clear: Life in Iran, as in the United States, the country it has demonized, is not all that different. ------ ...