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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Separation (Limited Release Date: 12-30-2011)

        For a film with as specific a title as A Separation, deciphering the exact meaning of the headline can prove deceptively difficult. Sure, it's easy enough to understand it as a reference to Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), a husband and wife going through a divorce, but things are a bit more complicated than that. We learn in the film's fiery opening sequence, one shot from an unmoving camera pointed at the spouses, that neither really wants to be apart, but Simin insists on leaving their native Iran, and if that's really want she wants, then Nader isn't about to stop her. Simin also wants to take their daughter (Sarina Farhadi) along, which Nader takes stronger issue against, wishing her to stay with him and his Alzheimers-Stricken Father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi). In Simin's absence, Nader is forced to hire some help around the house in the form of the clearly inexperienced Razieh (Sareh Bayat), an employment that takes a turn for the worst, throwing the lives of all those listed above, as well as Razieh's hot-tempered husband (Shahab Hosseini), into a further state of turmoil.

        A Separation will, in all likelihood, take home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature come the end of the month, and it's not hard to see why. Writer/Producer/Director Asghar Farhadi's film is jam-packed with academy-friendly material, including domestic unrest, disease, trauma, and virtuoso acting. The import is something of a cross between dramas of the, 'Kitchen Sink,' and 'Legal,' variety, a pair of genres that may seem almost particularly American, but are, of course, not at all. This juxtaposition between tried-and-true trappings, and what are, cinematically speaking, some pretty unfamiliar locations and cultural graces (because, really, have you seen an Iranian film before?), is consistently alluring. This is a foreign world, and yet almost all of the struggles that our protagonist (who is, in truth, Nader) faces could seemingly happen to any unlucky bloke at anytime, in any place. The sense that this film could appeal on a gut level to just about anyone in the world today is one of its greatest strengths. The yelling of the characters is not... and they do a lot of it.

        So much, in fact, that I can't help but think that a better title might have been An Endless Argument. As previously alluded to, all thespians on hand are in very, very fine form, but Farhadi's script leads them  into what is essentially a two hour shouting match, albeit one with a variety of interesting questions and answers to propose. There's also a lingering sense of melodrama, brought on by the sheer amount and variety of both families' suffering, all filmed with everyone's favorite ever-shaking camera. So, no, I can't sign on to the masterpiece tag that a lot of people want to slap on this movie, but only a real contrarian jerk would call in anything other than a solid piece of film-making. A Separation is involving from start to finish, and even if it suffers from a too-open-ended ending, as well as the afflictions listed above, it still comes out as one of the best pressure cookers of 2011, filled with an engrossing central conflict, and characters and performances with enough depth and nuance to match.

Grade: B 

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