Jodái-e Náder az Simin (A separation)
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi
Iran, 2011, 123’
After fourteen years of marriage, the relationship between Nader and Simin seems to have come to an end: she wants to leave Iran to guarantee a better future for their 11-years-old daughter Termeh, he wants to stay to take care of his father, an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Unable to come to an agreement, she files for divorce and leaves home. The situation becomes more complicated when Nader has a dispute with Razieh, a lower class woman employed to take care of his father, which ends in him sharply pushing her out of his flat. The consequences will be unexpected and very serious.
A separation, the latest film by Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi, beyond the essential story-line, stands out for the complex issues it raises, such as responsibility, honesty, religion and love, and for a strong sense of narration. The core of the story is conflict: the two primary conflicts in the plot are the one opposing husband and wife and the one between Nader and the married couple Razieh and Hodjat. From these two thematic issues several secondary conflicts ensue: the conflict between Nader and his house-maid when they fight about her abusing his old father and the missing money, the conflict between father and daughter, the final conflict between Razieh and her hot-tempered husband Hodjat. This growing tension makes the story intriguing and emotionally involves the viewer, who can’t help wondering who’s right and who’s wrong, what’s true and what’s false and inevitably ends up taking one or another character’s part.
The Iranian society of nowadays, with its problems and issues, is also glimpsed in the film: in fact it plays a decisive role in the development of the plot, as the trial separation starts because Simin wants her daughter to live in a society that gives more freedom and possibilities to women, and Razieh has to accept the job offered by Nader unbeknown to her husband, who disapproves of her working. Another major theme, in fact, is the social exclusion provoked by class, gender, economical barriers. Two main oppositions are set in this context: the first one is between Nader and Hodjat (the former is open-minded, modern, cultured and well-spoken, the latter is an illiterate choleric unemployed), the second one between the independent progressive Simin, who has her own career, dresses in a fashionable style and wants to decide about her and her daughter’s future, and Razieh, always concealed by her black chador, who needs to hide her work from her husband and to call her personal imam to know whether cleaning the incontinent father of Nader would be a sin or not. It’s clear that these are two worlds apart, with no possibility of communication. In fact, for the whole movie, they will be unable to come to an agreement and even to listen to each other. They will just keep on screaming, blaming and refusing to recognize their mistakes. In the end, the “adults” seem to be quite childish, and the real grown-up turns out to be 11-years-old Termeh.
Nevertheless, the current socio-political context, even if present and significant, doesn’t seem to be central. The end of a marriage, generation conflicts, social exclusion and the contrast between modern and tradition are universal issues, easy to identify with, that may concern anybody and happen anywhere, not only in Iran. More than the story of a separation in contemporary Iran, this is a story about a separation itself, and all the consequences that ensue.
The actors’ performances are powerful and absorbing: acting is amazingly natural and real and provokes a strong emotional impact in the viewer, as well as the script does. Dialogues are realistic and straightforward, although never banal. The film received the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Festival, and both the two leading actresses and the two leading actors were awarded on the same occasion (as well as on several others). The screenplay gained the Crystal Simorgh Award at the Iranian Fajr Film Festival.
The camera work is essential but expressive: hand-held camera creates a striking effect of reality, as if it was a documentary rather than a fictional oeuvre. Shots are always functional to the action: events, characters and movement are at the centre of the framing, no space is left to additional superfluous elements – such as landscapes or other merely ornamental images. Just from time to time the director highlights visual poetry in everyday situations and events, for example in the scene where Razieh hurries up in the street to search for Nader’s father who disappeared from his room. While running downstairs, her chador flutters behind her and creates a sort of black wave that covers the square of the stairwell and seems to move on its own.
The opening and the closing scenes are essential to the full understanding of the movie and present some particularly interesting filming strategies. These two scenes are related to each other, showing the same characters in different situations and creating a circular narrative. In the first scene we see Nader and Simin at the court discussing their divorce case. The scene is shown from the judge’s point of view: we see them sitting next to each other and addressing the magistrate. They expose their situation and each one tries to assert their reasons. Since the figure of the judge is never shown, the characters look straight in the camera and their claims are virtually addressed to the audience which is directly called upon to hear their case and to judge them. In the final scene, we find them again in the same frame, although separated: they don’t speak and they silently wait for an answer. An answer that – we discover as the movie goes on – is not always taken for granted: more often there is no right and no wrong; everyone has some reasons and some faults.
by Elisa Martellini