Nader and Simin have been married 14 years and have a daughter just weeks away from her 11th birthday and some important exams. However, they’re getting separated. They haven’t fallen out and bear no ill will towards one another, but circumstances require them to live apart. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants a better life for herself and her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), which she believes is impossible whilst living in Iran, so she wishes to move out of the country to live with her mother. However, her husband Nader (Peyman Mooadi) needs to stay to look after his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
That brief synopsis is all I knew about this film before going in, and it set up in my mind a completely different plot to the one I actually encountered. You see, this film is less about the actual hardships involved in separating from a long-term partner and the strain it has on the relationship both parents have with their child, and instead focusses on one specific problem that arises as a ramification of the split. Without giving too much away, Nader is forced to hire someone to look after his father whilst he is at work, and so hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), without the knowledge of her husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini). An incident arises that causes Razieh and Nader to part ways, and a court case ensues because of it. This becomes the primary focus of the story, transforming what could have been a lot of moping around and hand-wringing into an angry shouting match between the two families, once Razieh’s easily aggravated husband embroils himself into the situation. What follows is a kitchen sink police procedural, as well as a study in justice, truth and when doing what’s right might not be the best course of action.Several times during this film I felt like I was watching a soap opera. I’m not a fan of soaps, mainly because I can’t stand things that never end, hence my general disinterest in the Before films, but also because the stories they tell are so mundane and ordinary that they never piqued my interest. I could complain about the levels of obsession some people develop over the characters within the soaps too, going to the extent of caring more about the exploits of these fictional characters than they do their own friends and family, but there’s just as many – if not more – people who do the same with films, so that’s not really much of an argument, so I’ll stick to the tradition of movies having better production values and acting than most soap operas. A Separation is not a soap opera for just these very reasons. The acting is top notch all round, and the plot is both thought provoking and gripping, without bordering on the ridiculousness of actual soaps.
Our two initial leads, Nader and Simin, are far from sympathetic. They’re both fully rounded characters, perfectly played by Mooami and Hatami. She comes off shrewish and brittle, making it easier to side with Nader to begin with, but the more we get to know him the less sure we are as to whether he is doing the right thing. He haggles a salary down to an unfair rate, regardless of a long and gruelling commute and the difficulties involved in the job, and he makes his daughter pump the gas for their car, and when she tips the attendant he forces her to go back and retrieve his money. Granted he then gives it to her for doing all the work whilst he sat in the car, but that doesn’t erase the fact that she had to go back and get a tip she’d just given to the attendant. I thoroughly approved of the whose side are you on aspect of the story, especially once even more viewpoints were added as to who is most deserving of empathy.
What I was less of a fan of, however, was the overly preachy tone of the film, which is very, very anti-separation. As with Farhadi’s follow-up, The Past, this takes a look at the most extreme effect breaking up a relationship can have, extrapolating it to the furthest, most depressing point, and always bringing it back to the fact that none of this would ever have happened had this couple remained together. It’s not a bad message to give, but I felt it was delivered a little heavy handedly, and I think Farhadi should try something else for his next project.
Overall, it’s not exactly a fun watch, but it is full of unexpected turns that never get too silly, and I was genuinely taken aback by the final revelations. That doesn’t happen too often with me, so that makes this definitely recommendable.
Choose Film 8/10