A Separation 12/02/23 3:07
It opens with a couple, Nader and Simin, played by Peyman Maadi and the award-winning actress Leila Hatami, arguing before a judge in divorce court. Simin wants to leave the country, but Nader refused to go with her because he needs to take care of his father, who has Alzheimer's. They also have an adolescent daughter, who has chosen to stay with the father. The judge won't grant the divorce because Nader won't give up custody of the daughter. We're never told why Simin would want to leave Iran, but we can guess. What modern educated Iranian woman wouldn't prefer to escape the fundamentalist regime if she had the chance? A simpler film would make the plight of the woman the sole subject, but Farhadi uses the theme to achieve greater complexity.
Later, when Simin leaves the house to stay with her mother, Nader hires a pious woman named Razieh, played by Sareh Bayat, to take care of his father while he's at work. Razieh also has a daughter, a little girl that she brings along with her. The job, however, turns out to be much more demanding than Razieh expected, when the old man starts to be incontinent and at one point wanders out of the house. We later learn that Razieh's husband is unaware that she has taken this job. The religious strictures in Iran, and the codes about what men and women are allowed to do, cause these characters to be less than honest with each other. I won't reveal the plot any further, except to say that the two couples become involved in a very acrimonious legal situation that threatens to tear the families apart. The purest points of view are those of the two young people, the daughters, who are to a greater extent free of the blinding qualities of fear, custom and self-interest.
Within the narrow ranges of the home and the court, Farhadi maintains a fluid narrative style, allowing the potential of the story to develop with such a compelling and natural force that one is never less than fascinated. No character is completely right or wrong—the film doesn't judge, but we witness the difficult choices that inevitably result from the characters' limitations as people. Although at times Nader blames his wife's decision to separate for everything, the film shows it as just a symptom of divisions that were already there, not only in Iranian society, but in the nature of the social order of male-female relationships.
With its carefully observed eye for the quintessentially human detail, the film gradually evolves into a story of universal significance. A Separation is one of the must-see films of the year.