out of Five
Running time: 126
Impressively directed and sharply written, this is a compelling and emotionally gripping human drama with terrific performances from a strong cast.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Ashghar Farhadi, A Separation is set in present-day Iran and begins with middle-class couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Mooadi) arguing while filing for a divorce that neither of them wants in front of an unseen judge. The issue is that Simin wants to leave the country and take their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) with her, while Nader refuses to leave his senile father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) behind.
When the judge grants their divorce, Simin goes to live with her parents while she prepares to leave, so Nader hires working class woman Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after his father while he goes to work. However, when a tragic accident occurs after an argument between Nader and Razieh, her volatile husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini) accuses Nader of a serious crime and everyone ends up in court again.
Apart from the conceit of making the viewer the judge in the opening scene (by never showing the judge and having Nader and Simin address their pleas direct to camera), Farhadi employs mostly hand-held cameras throughout, giving the film an effective documentary-like feel and a strong sense of realism throughout. This is heightened by the excellent script, which carefully conceals the central incident so we're never quite sure who's telling the truth.
The performances are superb, particularly Mooadi and Bayat, whose interaction leads directly to the court case. These are complex, multi-layered characters with complicated motivations for why they may or may not be telling the truth and the courtroom scenes are both powerfully emotional and extremely gripping as a result.
Farhadi directs with a strong sense of pace, heightening emotion by having the court case unfold as an angry, fast-paced and occasionally violent argument between all concerned parties. The film is also packed with powerfully moving smaller details, such as the obvious effect her parents' situation is having on Termeh or the heart-breaking day-to-day realities of Nader's father suffering from Alzheimer's, something Razieh is clearly unprepared for when she takes on the job.
A Separation is an impressively directed, superbly written and brilliantly acted drama that exerts a tight emotional grip. Highly recommended.