Note to the Reader: I do not feel sufficiently informed about Iran and its population to accurately depict everything this movie is trying to say, but here goes nothing.
A man and a woman, married and living in Iran, state their cases to an offscreen mediator. The woman wants a divorce. She has worked diligently to obtain visas for her and her husband so they can take their 11-year-old daughter out of the country. The husband’s father has Alzheimer’s and can’t leave he can’t leave him in such a condition. The woman wants a better life for a her daughter, but she can’t take her daughter with her without her husband’s permission. The mediator rules that the woman doesn’t have good reason to divorce her husband and tells them to work it out. There is no Due Process and no appeals. This is the mediator’s ruling and she must live with it.
A Separation is a film about a family living in a culture and a country that is in transition. They live in a culture of absolutes that is crashing into a world where there is anything but. Technology is casting an ever-widening net and information has become more readily available. With the proliferation of information comes education and with education comes a sense of freedom, unknown to many only a few years before. In Iran, a largely muslim nation, the outside world’s sphere of influence is seeping into the culture. The country is desperately trying to hold onto some semblance of the Old World, but the ball is already speeding downhill. Hard questions about the very nature of their society are being asked. The roles of men and women, once indoctrinated and impenetrable, are changing more and more each day. Even their religion, which was once the guiding force of their lives and their moral compass has become pliable as they try to reconcile what they were forced to believe and what they have come to learn for themselves.
To say that A Separation is purely about a tectonic shift in culture would be a an injustice to film. In truth it’s about so much more. About half way through the film the shifts gears into something very different from what you set out watching. It would be a crime to give anything away, but it’s riveting to be sure. Not only does the second half of the film reinforce the thesis of the film, but calls into question the idea of what truth is and shows the path of destruction left in wake of mankind’s propensity for extreme hubris.*
A Separation is the odds on favorite to take home the Best Foreign Film Academy Award and it’s easy to see why. It is an important, intense piece of film making. Unfolding like a morality play in an alternate universe. It takes place in a world we know, in a time that feels familiar. But, as the film progresses the subtle differences shine through and we realize just how great the divide is between the world I know as an American and the world as depicted in the film.**
*I apologize for the flowery language, but this post was a bitch to write.
**It needed to be written though. It’s a good goddamn movie.