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.