Saturday, March 10, 2012

Film Review: A Separation - Best Foreign Language Film (2012)

My husband and I go to the movies frequently.  We usually try to see the majority of films up for an Oscar. We pick films to see based on reviews, interesting story lines,  favorite directors and actors. We also see a number of previews for films but trailers for two of the films we saw this year (The Artist and A Separation), didn't motivate us at all to see the films.  We went due to the buzz, film reviews, and film awards.  We checked out The Artist the day before the Oscars and found it to be a "snooze fest" and certainly would not have selected it for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, etc. It did not live up to the hype for the Top Oscars,  but then that is our opinion.  Generally, we do like to be entertained but The Artist was gimicky, down to the blurred quality of the black and white film to enhance a "dated" look. This film would not have been a stand-out even in the 1920's or 1930's, it's story and ending predictable.  The "hook" was of course the use of an archaic genre (silent film) to create something "new and different" in cinema.  I apparently was not the only one disappointed.

My husband and I saw A Separation  at the cinema last night. I was intrigued to see the Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film after watching the genuine and heartfelt acceptance speech of it's director, Asghar Farhadi.  We both enjoyed the film very much, and consider it to be one of the best we've seen in the past year.  We also very much enjoyed Midnight In Paris and were pleased that it's director and writer, Woody Allen, received Best Original Screenplay although in competition with Asghar Farhadi who was also nominated for his original screenplay for A Separation.

A Separation is not a happy film to watch, with it's sadness of a family broken apart by uncontrollable circumstances and competing life choices, but it is highly engaging and thought-provoking.  The direction, the acting, the story, and the camera-work are all top notch.  It is sub-titled and following the rapidly spoken dialogue for non-Farsi speakers is sometimes difficult, but should not be an impediment for anyone familiar with sub-titled films.  The film's approach to making the viewer be the judge of events and an eventual ultimate decision may be disconcerting to someone who wants the film to "finish the story".  Overall, the film provides a compelling portrayal of middle-class Iranian life and the culture of an Islamic-centered society that overlays the social interaction, the relations between men and women, the courts, education and economy of present-day Iran.  The humanity of the central characters come through perfectly and the American viewer can well relate to the weight of the problems faced by the two families portrayed.  One family faces the care of an aging parent with dementia while trying to improve their lives, while another family that is facing difficult economic and mental health issues intersects with the first family with spiralling out-of control results. I could not help being sympathetic to their lives and wishing them well.  There is no cultural disconnect here except perhaps for the theocratic domination of people's lives.  Americans may feel uncomfortable with the religious overlay of life in modern-day Iran, especially how it governs the day-to-day lives of women.  I found it to be revealing of how individual freedom is constricted when religion and the State are no longer separated.  In Iran, one must call  a "religious" counselor to determine one's proper behavior in order to avoid "commiting a sin" even when a female care-taker must change the soiled pants of a male Alzheimer's patient.  And the desire to protect one's family members or one's own soul from misfortune and damnation prevent one from swearing on the Koran to the veracity of events even though it destroys your own family economically and socially.  Ultimately, the conflict between making the best personal choice and the preservation of one's personal integrity is what this story is about.

After leaving the theater, my husband and I were eager to talk about the film.  He compared the inhabitants of Iran to his experience with Russia and the former Soviet Union, in their living a life confined to the "four corners" of a highly-defined political culture and reality.  I was struck by the limitation on personal freedom of a theocracy and immediately brought up my fears of a Rick Santorum-led theocractic movement in our own country.  Needless to say, that stopped all further discussion between my conservative husband and liberal me. It's a pity that the extreme factionalism of our current national politics prevent us from calmly and openly discussing such issues.  I suspect that is how Iran's society came to be the way it is.

1 comment:

  1. What a right on post. I was so impressed I sent the link to it to a couple of my spouses Red Hat Club friends. Why? They keep send egregious and outrageous emails on Muslins/Terrorists. They are so bizarre and paranoid its unbelievable. Their imagined bogeyman paints all Muslims with the same brush. I doubt either one has ever considered the meaning of separatin of church and state. And I'm sure they hope to vote for the future Ayatollah now running in the primaries. Ok usually I ingnore these missles but as you can probably tell the last one particularly got my goat....:(