After winning the Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film,” the Iranian film “A Separation” has quickly risen to popularity as a controversial portrait of life in Iran. A story of conflict between a husband and wife, parents and their daughter, and employer and employee, the film engages viewers in tragedy that extends beyond its home country. Moreover, the film captures the tension of a morally and religiously restrictive Iranian society.
“A Separation” begins with a couple filing for divorce when wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wishes to move away from Iran to give her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) more opportunities. When Simin’s husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) condemns her request to flee, their daughter is forced to choose between the two parents. Consequently, Simin moves to her sister’s apartment, leaving behind her angry daughter. In order to fill Simin’s role—who cares for Nader’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father—Nader hires a pregnant woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayet), to act as a nurse. Conflict ensues when Razieh loses her child and attempts to prosecute Nader for murder.
As the marital discord between Simin and Nader builds up, we feel a rising uneasiness. They both regret their separation, but the couple’s stubbornness prevents them from reconciliation. Simin is fed up with caring for her husband’s father, whom she believes should be left behind after the family moves to another country. Nader, on the other hand, thinks his wife has no familial respect and blames her for his father’s worsening condition.
The character who deserves sympathy the most is Termeh, who suffers greatly from her parents’ trivial bickering. She constantly has to choose between the homes of her two parents, and she upsets her mother when she does not move out with her. While the more interdependent culture in Iran stresses the severity of family conflict, it is one that can apply to any viewer. Faced with a choice no child should have to make, Termeh shows through her plight her strong will and unwavering resilience.
“A Separation” succeeds in its portrayal of cultural and religious conflict specific to life in Iran. As Simin and Nader get further involved in a legal back-and-forth, the inefficiencies and harshness of the Iranian legal system become apparent. In the end, both sides of the suit suffer as blame for Razieh’s miscarriage is passed around, and both are punished by a system all too eager to dole out sentences. While Nader is prosecuted for his role in the death of Razieh’s child by overworking her and allegedly pushing her, Razieh suffers legal action when she is accused of mistreating Nader’s father.
Furthermore, religious tension is stressed when characters are forced to choose between their self-interests and the dictates of their Muslim identities. For example, when Nader’s father wets himself, Razieh is conflicted with whether or not her religion allows her to clean him up. Similarly, when her family is about to settle the suit with Nader, she cannot bring herself to swear that she truly believes Nader is at fault, due to her fear that her daughter would consequently be punished by God. The religious and cultural complexity within the film makes it more engaging and dramatic, painting an in-depth portrait of Iranian culture that we may otherwise not understand.
The film itself is a low-budget production compared to the average Hollywood blockbuster. The budget was only $800,000, the camera work is often shaky, and the scenes are crowded with unrelated passersby. However, these nuances only serve to emphasize the strength of the film’s plot. In spite of its imperfections, the film has cultural, religious, and personal dynamics that succeed in creating a multi-dimensional drama, showing how easy it is for rising tensions to split a family apart.
The powerful emotions the film conveys make it worth bearing its mediocre exterior. In one scene, a deep sadness is shown as Termeh and Razieh’s young daughter shares a long, strained glance. In that moment, the pain and tragedy that define the film’s story of separation is apparent as it becomes clear that the film does not end on an optimistic note. With rousing characters defined by their culture, and a deep plot that does not disappoint, “A Separation” is well-deserving of its Oscar.