“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The ability to see events from different perspectives is one of the most important elements of a successful relationship, whether it involves a married couple, a parent and child, or a group of nations. Warring parties are always convinced that they have right or, in some cases, God on their side. To them, every action they take is fully justified and every act the other party takes is sinister. The failure to see other people’s perspectives is in full view in Asqhar Farhadi’s brilliant A Separation, winner of the Best Foreign Film award at the Golden Globes and nominated for an Oscar in the same category. Farhadi does not ask us to choose sides but to observe how decisions made with good intentions and for the alleged benefit of others often have the opposite effect.
The film opens in a courtroom in Tehran as Simin (Leila Hatami) speaks to a judge, unseen by the camera, asking him to grant her a divorce from Nader (Peyman Moaadi) her husband of fourteen years. Simin wants to leave the country and take her 11-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), with her to seek better opportunities abroad. Nader, a bank employee, however, will not leave Iran because of his responsibility to care for his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) coping with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though they have been married for fourteen years, there does not seem to be any hint of compromise. Unable to obtain the divorce because the judge deems the issues not “serious” enough, the couple agrees to separate with Simin going to her mother’s house and Termeh staying with her father.
To help care for his aging father, the well-off Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a pregnant, less affluent young woman with a four-year-old daughter. Whether or not Nader knows she is pregnant will become a contentious issue later in the film. Razieh, a devout Muslim, who has not told her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) about her employment, is conflicted when she has to change the clothes of the incontinent old man, and feels compelled to ask an Islamic authority if it would be considered a sin. Things become even worse when Nader returns from work and finds his father lying on the floor barely breathing with Razieh nowhere in sight. When Razieh returns home after she claimed she had to do an important errand, an angry Nader accuses her of stealing money and asks her to leave immediately.
Resistant to leave, he pushes her out the front door, causing the pregnant woman to fall down the stairs. Events begin to spin out of control when Razieh has a miscarriage and her irate husband takes Nader to court for murder. As the case is presented in a preliminary hearing before a judge, the divide between the families escalates and each person is guilty of concealing the truth in order to protect themselves or a family member. A Separation may sound like a melodramatic soap opera, but it is far from it. It is a powerful, realistic, and beautifully acted drama full of constant tension and uncertainty, a film in which each person must confront the fact that the walls they have erected have not led to nurturing relationships.
While the film is not overtly political, an underlying sub-text is the depiction of a male-dominated autocratic theocracy, a political system based on force, oppression and the alienation between gender and class. Eager to enhance their daughter’s education, the couple hired Miss Ghahraii, a teacher (Merila Zare’i) from her school to come to their flat to provide coaching for her upcoming exams, but it is painfully clear to see how much more she is respected than Razieh, who stays in the kitchen during family gatherings. As the adults fight over perceived injustices, the children, as is often the case, endure the most pain, conflicted by their love and dependence on their parents and their desire for morality and justice.
While Termeh seemingly hides her pain, her face reflects the terrible burden her parents have put on her by their inability to see the world from other points of view, the kind of tragedy that has plagued mankind for centuries. As Farhadi has wisely said “What I hope is that the viewer will not know whose victory to wish for.” When responsibility, love, and sacrifice are not present, there can be no victory for anyone.