A Separation ★★★★★

Asghar Farhadi’s intense and tragic study of the destructive nature of pride through the implosion and consequences of an upper class couple’s divorce, A Separation renders, in densely layered, complex nuance, the intricacies of human nature laid bare, as Farhadi uses the deceptively simple narrative to construct a portrait of Iranian society as a whole.

Farhadi, who often has had his fair share of issues with Iran’s notoriously strict censorship policies, makes a film that uses it’s story as a magnifing glass for a whole litnany of issues not just unique to Iran, but to humanity as a whole. Chronicling the decay of an upper class couple’s marriage, and the subsequent hiring of a lower class woman who take care of the husband’s dementia ridden father, Farhadi analyses and studies the destructive nature of pride and stubbornness, be it born from self-entitlement or subtle differences in social and gender dynamics, as things begin to snowball out of control, as each person makes rash decisions born out of self interest, and must suffer the undxpected consequences of those actions on themselves and the others around them, in an ever growing web of warring egos and moralities. Farhadi’s direction reflects this sense of conflict via his handheld camera work, with many, dialogue heavy sequences being filled with a fervent energy as Farhadi allows his stellar cast plenty of room to bounce off each other, as the individual frustrations are made manifest, as tempers flare, sending sparks flying.

The film’s two central characters are the couple Simin (played by Leila Hatami) and Nader (played by Peyman Moaadi), who’s marriage rapidly begins to implode after Simin expresses a desire to raise her daughter, Termeh (played by Sarina Farhadi), aboard, hoping for a better life, but Nader, who’s father is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer’s, resolutely refuses to leave, and so Simin files for divorce. Nader, wishing to have help caring for his father, hires Razieh (played by Sareh Bayat), a lower class, religiously devout and shy woman who is four months pregnant, has a young girl, and an unployed husband, Hodjat (played by Shahab Hosseini), is soon overwhelmed by her duties, and soon, what seem to be minor mistakes soon esclate into disaster atop disaster. Very much a drama built around the intriciacies of human relationships, all the performances have a stunningly naturalistic yet impactful aura, as the interplay between Hatami and Moaadi becomes more and more aggressive, with Hatami’s Simin being just as strongwilled as her husband, with the two continually locked into a co-dependant, mutually destructive relationship, as their own individual senses of pride and arrogance continually clash, each refusing to compromise on the issues that plague their relationship, even as a feud soon breaks out between Nader and Hodjat, after Razieh has a miscarriage and accuses Nader of causing it. The four way conflict showcases a variety of different social dynamics, from the tension between Nader and Simin’s educated and upper class lifestyle with Razieh and Hodjat’s more humble lower class life, and the dynamic between genders, as the conflict over responsibilities and who is at fault soon becomes a masculine headbutting contest as much as a legal one, with neither man being willing to surrender his position, while the women are caught within the expectations of how women within Iranian society are supposed to behave, and the further conflict of the overall rather secular Nader and Simin, and the devoutly religious Hodjat and Razieh, underlining the role of religion in Iranian society.

Mahmoud Kalari’s cinematography is direct and unvarnished, fitting Farhadi’s naturalist approach, as the camera hovers inside the homes of each of the characters, often taking it’s time to let the dynamics of a scene play out, with Hayedeh Safiyari’s editing balancing a steady pace with tension, as we alternate between arguments that either play out as emotionally raw long takes, or equally raw, sharply edited sequences, as the film’s themes of pride, social expectation, arrogance, and the nature of the truth, which is soon rendered so opaque one cannot seperate actuality from biased perception, are played out in a concentrated, unflinchingly direct manner.

Rightfully earning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (the first win for Iran), A Separation transcends cultural and linguistic barriers to showcase a truly impactful and emotionally visceral portrait of the collapse of relationships and familial bonds, and the emotional consequences of such bickering and fighting, regardless of whatever the justification may be. It is a film of slow burning, yet bracing intensity.

5 out of 5 stars.