Sunday, January 29, 2012

And Iran, Iran So Far Away: 'A Separation' Departs, Connects -- Movie Review

Movie Review

A Separation
written and directed by Asghar Farhadi
playing in Chicago area at Music Box Theatre and Century Evanston

In awarding A Separation a 1/2@ under the Seth Saith maximum, it seems I liked the Iranian drama a good bit less than the norm.

Somewhat atypically, it was given a 4-star top rating by both Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert of the Sun-Times, who also named it his favorite film of 2011.

And of the nearly 33,000 people who have rated the movie on IMDB's 10-point scale, a whopping 63% have given it the top score.

Even among the group of movie buffs I saw it with, it seemed I was a tad less vociferous about Asghar Farhadi's film being truly extraordinary.

Yet my feeling apologetic about bestowing A Separation "only" @@@@1/2 (out of 5) should suggest how strongly I recommend that you make a point of seeing this wonderful film. For even if it doesn't quite meet your expectations--and perhaps mine were over-inflated--at worst, this is a movie almost anyone should find extremely worthwhile and well-made. If nothing else, I promise that--similar in many ways to a great play--A Separation will provide you with plenty to discuss and debate afterward.

On its surface, the movie is a family drama, about a woman who wants to leave Iran with her husband and 12-year-old daughter, but with visa in hand is held back by her husband's wish to continue caring for his father, who has Alzheimer's. Per the title, they separate, but she moves in with her mother nearby until an amenable plan can be reached.

The movie then takes numerous turns that I didn't expect and won't reveal here, but winds up offering--along with much else, including a multi-faceted exploration of truth, deceit and consequences--the palpable suspense of a great legal thriller.

Taking it at face value, I thought I noted some structural/logical flaws and at least one instance of confusing editing. And the motivations of some characters weren't entirely clear, but I believe that was part of Farhadi's point. Far more than most Hollywood movies ever do, A Separation deals with its characters as people really are, including being at times, exasperatingly inconsistent. The acting, led by Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shaheb Hosseini and Sarina Farhadi (the director's daughter), is remarkably realistic and impactful throughout.

The movie also provides quite a fascinating glimpse into Iran, in ways that exhibit vast cultural differences from the U.S., but also rather striking human commonalities. It's a film I definitely look forward to revisiting at some point, and I wouldn't be shocked if I find reason to add that 1/2@.

But at this point, I find no reason--aversion to subtitles, wariness about a film from Iran, etc.--for anyone who likes intelligent drama to miss discovering this terrific movie. In fact, expecting a near sellout and the possibility of not getting in, I was rather disappointed only about 60 people or so made it to the Music Box for the 9:30pm Saturday showing on A Separation's first weekend in Chicago. With a rare film like this, those who make the effort can only be better for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a tribute to Farhadi's skill as a film maker that his 'simple' story is being appreciated world-wide and across a wide political spectrum; acclaimed in main-stream western media at the same time as Iranian pro-government circles, both of which subscribe to the dictum 'if you are not with us, you are against us'.
In spite of the apolitical appearance of the movie, most Iranian and some western informed viewers sense in-there some metaphors of a political nature. A major one is explained here.
In the opening scene, Nader says he does not want to leave Iran for many reasons and when challenged by Simin to name one, he mentions his father's need for care and sympathy in the state he is in. To Simin this seems like an excuse. Nader, a man whose honesty and integrity is confirmed, should be seeking a better future for his family in the West, rather than stay behind, helping a father whose situation is hopeless because of Alzheimer's. Then, as the argument builds up, we finally hear laud and clear the ‘Two World Views' :
Simin (Modern)- Does your father any longer know you are his son?
Nader (Patriotic)- But I know he is my father!
The sick father, who no longer knows him but needs his love, his care and his protection so dearly and cannot be left behind in such a state, is of course IRAN!
This interpretation is confirmed when Nader accuses Simin, in a later scene, that she has always been weak and tried to escape when conditions get tough, whereas one has to stand up and face the challenges ahead,.............economic sanctions or worse!
In the opening scene we observe that the question of leaving IRAN or staying there, under the given ‘CIRCUMSTANCES’, is such an important issue that is tearing up an otherwise successful marriage. Well now, what are the reasons for leaving? Simin comes out clearly; to escape from 'CIRCUMSTANCES' in Iran for hopefully better life opportunities in the West. So, little fear of Iranian censors there. But, what are the reasons for not leaving? Here we hear from Nader that there are a thousand. Simin challenges him to name one. And when Nader mentions his demented father, she retorts that this is only an excuse! Yet the director chooses to spend the next two hours of our time, and God knows how much of his own, to take us through what is at best one reason among many, and at worst only an excuse! This makes sense only if this reason, the father with Alzheimer's, is construed by the director to symbolize the way Nader (Farhadi) connects to IRAN and its present predicament. His country, though partially forgetful of his sons, does need him and people like him. Here he is wise to hide from both censors! The Iranian censors do not mind the dissatisfied leaving, and the main-stream western media revels in this. On the other hand, both may consider patriots a nuisance, who are out of tune with their Weltanschauung.
Recently Farhadi was asked if he plans to leave Iran for good. His answer was a categorical No! His reason basically being that if politicians running IRAN (and for that matter America) are narrow minded and do not recognize the contribution that film makers like him are making towards enriching the cultural scene and bridging over the divide, then he feels even more compelled to stay in Iran, where he can best work, face the challenges and fulfill his duty towards his people. Is this not what Nader tells Simin in the opening scene of the movie, albeit in a language that could pass both censors, Thus:
Simin - Does your Father know, anymore, you are his son?
Nader - But I know He is my Father!
In other words, responsibility lies with the side who knows!