Asghar Farhadi directs a suspenseful Iranian family drama in 2011’s A Separation.
Children are children everywhere. It’s a principle understood by anyone who has ever played with a child of a different race, culture, or social class. In Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 A Separation, you may also learn that the elderly of any race or culture are surprisingly similar, too.
Of course, humans of all color experience the same emotions, weighed down by universal themes of guilt, shame, longing, sadness, and joys. But while those of us lingering closer to the center of our lifespans tend to hold all the cards, the children and elderly of the world often remain innocent bystanders to the whims and passions of the rest of us. Children – and, for that matter, the elderly – being used for the gain of adults is nothing new. Here, we also see the deep burden and impossible dilemmas that children and elders cause to those adults who carry their responsibility.
A Separation begins with an extended shot of Nadir and Simin, a separated couple seeking divorce in front of a judge. Simin believes they must flee the country while they can, while Nadir believes strongly that it is his duty to stay behind and care for his aging father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The judge doesn’t think it’s all that serious. As the camera stares coldly at them, we begin to understand that modern day Iran is not a place to be on the other side of a judge’s desk.
Both parents seem to care deeply about their 11 year old daughter Termeh, but pay little notice to the wounds their shrapnel inflict on her. Nadir soon decides to hire Razieh to take care of his father during the days when he is at work; a deeply religious woman, Razieh doesn’t tell her husband that she is alone at a man’s home without his wife present, fearing that he would forbid it as improper. After a series of unfortunate incidents, Razieh has a miscarriage and accuses Nadir of murder.
Doubts emerge. We begin to question the testimonies they give. Nadir doesn’t want to go to jail, knows he is a good man, but recognizes that he perhaps became too aggressive with Razieh. She has her own motives, and we try to understand and sympathize as they become apparent to us. Other characters are brought in, forced to make difficult decisions, adding further layers to the complex web of fuzzy memories, half-truths, and the threat of inconceivable repercussions.
Writer-Director Asghar Farhadi doesn’t take sides, he simply observes the unfolding series of unfortunate events and asks us some pretty difficult questions: What would you do? What would any human do? And when impossible choices are made, sometimes at the expense of integrity, how do you face the children who bear witness? While Iran’s legal system, a modern state still bound by Islamic Law, certainly paints the perfect setting for exploring these themes, they are universal questions with no easy answers. We like to believe that even the toughest situations have a solution, and that our moral compasses will always point us in the right direction. A Separation reminds us that life isn’t always that easy. We are, after all, only human.