Divorce is a difficult subject to tackle honestly on film. There is an experiential element to it that makes it highly personal, and when done incorrectly it can be alienating rather than universal. A Separation is a film that gets divorce. It understands divorce through and through. But, more importantly, A Separation also uses divorce as a means to explore much grander issues of honesty, death, social class structure, religion and institutions. It also happens to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s film tells a somewhat complex story. Nader and Sirin are a married couple who have decided to separate due to differences over whether to leave the country. Nader cannot leave because he must take care of his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their daughter decides to stay with Nader in an attempt to get Sirin to stay in Iran and get back together with Nader. That’s not even the main plot, though. Nader ends up hiring a woman to take care of his father during the day. The woman, Razieh, is pregnant, and one day Nader comes home early to find that she has gone out for a couple of hours and left his father alone, locked in his room, his arm tied to the bed, nearly suffocating. Nader pushes Razieh out the front door of his apartment, seemingly causing her to fall down the stairs, causing her to miscarriage.
From there, the film follows the fight between Nader and Razieh and their respective families. Nader is being charged with murder, and much of that hinges on whether he did or did not know about Razieh pregnancy. It is often difficult in the film to figure out who is telling the truth at what time, but more important is when we actually see these characters choose to lie, and the motivations for and effect of those lies.
You see, A Separation is not just about one family being torn apart, it’s about the whole of society being torn apart by the selfish and often fearful motivations of individuals. Farhadi brings us right into the world of these characters. Many of the things they do are awful and devastating, but we always understand why, and in some cases we actually sympathize. These are all real, flawed people who make poor decisions in the face of grave consequences.
The issues that A Separation examines are of great social importance, but they are also personal and universal. By letting us get to know the characters so well, we get to feel their pains and struggles. It all adds up to a film that raises many questions that are difficult or impossible to answer, and that’s where the magic lies. It shines a light on the difficulties of trying to share your life with the people around you, and for that it’s a film that’s very difficult to shake.