What Is Wrong Is Wrong, No Matter Who Said It: A Separation (2011)

I was a bit worried about including A Separation within this month, because aside from the few very captivating images I had seen during its Oscar win last year, I knew very little about it and was uncertain as to how heavily women would play into the narrative, a confusion that was not cleared up in the slightest by the presence of a plot synopsis, yet when my school decided to show its as part of their Middle Eastern Film Festival, I knew that I at the very least should check it out, at worst I would watch it and it would not apply to the blog for the month, yet, much to my elation, the film is very much concerned with women, both in context of contemporary Iranian society, as well as the manner with which they navigate spaces in culture and in film both in their presence and absence.  A Separation is a very deliberate, some would say contemplative film, about the nature of bureaucracy, truth and the foundations of religious identity, all issues seemingly key to Iranian cinema, although I am hesitant to say this with certainty, having really only seen Abbas Kiarostami films as a commentary on Iran.  It would be outright foolish to assume this to be the only image of Iran, much like saying only Kurosawa's vision of Japan is accurate, or to bring it closer to home, only Scorsese's image of America is honest.  An American would be quick to negate the urban landscape within Scorsese's films as a full reflection of The United States.  Of course, this is simply an aside, because much of Iranian cinema is inaccessible or has faded into obscurity, so Western film critics must draw from what is available and, perhaps in the future, more will make its way to a global audience.  With all of this in mind, I must consider A Separation as some degree of a reflection of contemporary, at least urban, Iranian society, after all it, was the film submitted to the Academy of Motion Pictures for Foreign Language Film and managed to win it as well.  I do not claim to understand the intricacies of gender politics as they relate to Iran, but I would be willing hedge a bet on this film representing them with some degree of accuracy, particularly in the materialist feminist consideration of gender/property oppression that emerges within the narrative.  Possessing a decidedly vague ending, A Separation, nonetheless, appears to hold optimism as its central ideology.

A Separation begins with a divorce hearing between separated couple Nader (Payman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) who are told that they will find themselves incapable of divorcing unless they can agree to terms, one of which centers around the movement of their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) out of the country, a decision that Nader flat out refused to agree to, and seems to be the main point of divide between the couple.  Simin seems intent on leaving with the family, but Nader refuses any possibility, almost entirely because of his Alzheimer's ridden father's immobility.  Simin, while understanding the tragedy of the situation, nonetheless, extracts herself from the situation, leading to Nader needing to hire an employee to take care of his ailing father while he is at work.  Finding reluctant help in Razieh (Sareh Bayat) Nader continues with his work, yet when Razieh claims that she cannot continue working, due to the religious issues with needing to bath the ailing man, Nader decides to consider her offer of allowing her unemployed husband to do the work instead, however, her husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini) has ties to creditors that keep him occupied, leading to Razieh returning as hospice.  This occurs a bit longer, until one day Nader returns home from picking up Termeh to find the house locked.  Frantically navigating the house, he discovers his father to be tied to the bed and passed out on the floor, only moments away from dying.  Furious at Razieh he berates her upon his return and assumes her to also be guilty of stolen money, leading to him forcefully pushing him out of his apartment, in the process Razieh apparently slips down a few slick stairs, leading, Nader later discovers, to a miscarriage.  This act leads to confrontation between Nader and Razieh and her husband Hojjat within the bureaucratically complex Iranian legal system.  At one point Nader is accused of willful murder, while Razieh is blamed for negligence of an elder, leading to a legal battle that turns ugly when hostilities move outside of the court.  Eventually, the group makes financial amends, heavily a result of Simin's intervention, moving things back to some degree of normalcy, although viewers are to assume that a high level of deception as occurred, not to mention that the events only solidify the desire for Simin and Nader to end things, much to the contesting of Termeh who is forced to decide which parent she would like to stay with.

The film really drives home the idea of truth as a relative term to one's ability to assure their comfort and safety, as well as those around them.  None of the characters are inherently bad, per se, with maybe the exception of Hojjat whose past woes have led to a heavy amount of debts, and little explanation is given to explain what led to these debts, almost certainly suggesting illicit behavior.  The patriarchal figurehead factors in heavily into how persons navigate the film, particularly Nader who finds himself fully aware of the realities of losing his wife if he does not agree to move, yet his obligation to his aging father is tantamount and leads to accepting the loss of his wife.  Yet, while these narratives and ideas are key, the film seems deliberately set on suggesting that many of the issues faced by all involved in the narrative tie to the notion that women can only navigate the bureaucracy and legality of Iran with their male superiors guidance and presence.  The main factor in preventing Simin from leaving is that she must do so with the permission of Nader who refuses to do so out of principle, completely ignoring the very real concerns for Simin's, as well as Termeh's, safety.  Similarly, a viewer can easily argue that Razieh's inability to navigate the job market without the permission of her prideful husband proves problematic, considering that he cannot obtain work and she is legally not allowed to do so without his permission.  It reminds one of notions of Marxist Feminism, which suggest that much of women's oppression finds its ties in private property and in the case of Iran their inability to possess it, even in the cases in which their husbands are detached from logical engagements to correct a financial situation.  Even when Nader hires Razieh with the best of intentions, the fact that it is technically illegal suggests that if anything goes wrong, it will invariably the fault of the woman.  The narrative, also seems to be in favor of this idea at first glance, but the reminder that it is male privilege and public sphere presence which has led to all the problems only rejects such a reading.  A Separation is purposefully critical of gender politics in the film, yet, in a very clear statement Asghar Faradi seems to remind viewers that future generations of Iranians will be far less oppressive and the two young girls who navigate the filmic space as well certainly affirm that.

Key Scene:  There are a ton of great monologues and interactions, yet a single brief shot of Nader and Simin on an elevator facing perpendicular to one another seems to really undermine these ideals.

This movie is phenomenal, I watched it on DVD, but plan to obtain the bluray and I suggest you do the same.

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