Over the past 12 months, an Iranian feature has emerged as darling of the international circuit. After winning five prizes at the 2011 Berlinale, the acclaimed effort triumphed at the Sydney Film Festival, as well as the Asia Pacific Screen, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit awards. Now, the much-admired movie has claimed a coveted Oscar statuette to cap off its remarkable year.
Such consistent winners often suffer critical backlash, but A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) is an exception, thanks in part to the intriguing and involving drama at its heart.
The fifth feature from About Elly writer/director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation tells a tale both personal and political, exploring the intricacies of the legal system and its pervasive impact upon a couple on the precipice of divorce. An intimate offering, the film reunites the hailed helmer with frequent cast members Peyman Moaadi and Shahab Hosseini, as well as marking the first collaboration with Leila Hatami (daughter of the late legendary director Ali Hatami) and initial on-screen appearance of Sareh Bayat.
Whilst the marital breakdown of Nader (Moaadi, Mourning) and Simin (Hatami, Verdict) after 14 years provides the framework for the conflict, at its core is an indictment of the incessant and interminable complexities of Iranian culture. Sparked by an incident involving pregnant housekeeper Razieh (newcomer Bayat) that draws the ire of her unemployed husband Hodjat (Hosseini, Superstar)>), the feature contemplates the oppression and ambiguity inherent in Iran’s wider society.
Accordingly, the touching effort paints a powerful portrait of restraint and retribution. Pondering gender and generational as well as class and religious structures, it examines domestic struggles saturated with dogmatic undercurrents. That it does so whilst adhering to the restrictive censorship requirements placed on the country’s filmmakers ensures its incisive investigation of ethics is all the more extraordinary. As a result, the film resonates with the moral and psychological tension that accompanies the compelling competing agendas presented.
With Farhadi’s masterful sense of suspense heightened by captivating performances from the four key players, this faultless feature penetrates on an emotional and intellectual level. Methodical and measured, it is weighty yet accessible; a multi-layered, metaphorical story. Boasting subtlety and substance that defies its apparent narrative simplicity, A Separation is infiltrating and observant. A challenging and complicated instance of cinema, regardless of country of origin, the film deserves its status among 2011’s most lauded.
Rating: 5 stars
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Iran, 2011, 123 min
In cinemas March 1