The first thing that struck me about A Separation, an Iranian film directed by Asghar Farhadi, was how clean and normal Tehran is, how civil, well spoken, and highly functioning Nader and Simin, the husband and wife at the center of the film are, and how fair and direct the court system in Iran seems to be.
It forced me to acknowledge that I have many preconceptions about how the people of a Middle Eastern country that is touted in the media as our enemy live and suffer. They live and suffer pretty much the way we do, except that respect, dignity, and personal and family honor may play a more important role in their discourse. Their respect for the law and their faith in the Koran and in their God is much more profound on a personal level than I often find here.
Except for the fact that, at the opening of the film, Simin wants to leave Iran to find a better life for their daughter, there is no political over- or under-tone anywhere to be seen. It could be Madrid, it could be London, Paris, Brooklyn or Burbank.
Nader and Simin have been married for fourteen years. They have an eleven year old daughter, Termeh. The mother, Simin, wants to leave Iran. Nader does not because his father, who lives with them, has Alzheimer’s and needs to be cared for by him. He is “a decent man,” in her words, and has done nothing wrong, but she wants to leave. By Islamic law and her own conscience, she will not be allowed to leave her family unless she seeks a divorce.
Simin has forty days until her visa expires, so they separate and continue talking to try to change each others minds. Nader hires a woman to care for his father when he works. He comes home one day to find his father tied to his bed, the door locked, and the woman gone. When she returns, he tells her to leave and not come back, and what ensues gets at the heart of how deeply we depend on the laws of men, on our faith, our trust in each other, and on our own integrity and ability to know and tell the truth to muddle through the most complex situations.
The film is completely naturalistic in style. They don’t have budgets for super heroes in Iran. I suspect they don’t have interest either, but that could again be my preconception. The film accumulates a tremendous power as the layers of truth are peeled back and we see how flawed people that we trusted truly are. It is especially moving because children are at the center of the conflict and Termah is asked to lie, to dissemble, and finally left to decide which parent she will live with. The final image of the film is of her two parents waiting in the hall, not speaking, barely looking at each other, but not out of animosity, out of exhaustion, while they wait for their daughter’s decision.
A Separation opens Friday Feb. 17 at the Landmark Downer Theatre.