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24 March 2012

Jodái-e Náder az Simin (2011)

A Separation
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, 
Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Kimia Hosseini
I  do not usually write about new films. I figure there are enough reviews out there, both in print and on the Internet, to make it worthwhile to do so. However, for once, I make an exception. Last week, I watched an Iranian film Jodái-e Náder az Siminor to give it its name for international release - A Separation

It wouldn't be wrong to say that it affected me profoundly. So profoundly, in fact, that it took me a long time to get over the film. It is very rarely that a film affects me so badly. The last time that I took forever to get over the effects of watching a movie was when I was watching La Veuve de Saint Pierre, starring two of my favourite French actors, Juliet Binoche and Daniel Auteuil.

A Separation  is a compelling look at relationships, and provides a glimpse into one part of contemporary Iranian society. 

The deserving winner of this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, A Separation is, at its core, a domestic drama. A tense, but gripping narrative, the film is impeccably crafted with strong performances from the main leads - two couples - and ably supported by an ensemble cast, including two children. The tension is heightened by the court scenes that break the narrative, by the anger and sometimes, the violence between the two men. Yet, the director has a strong grip over the emotional thread, and that is the reason why this film resonated across the world, picking up every important award within Iran, and in Europe.

Most of the action takes place inside Nader's (Peyman Moadi) and Simin's (Leila Hatami) middle-class apartment. When the movie begins, Simin has just initiated divorce proceedings. We, the audience, are almost in the role of the judge in the case, as both parties talk directly to us, proffering reasons why they should (Simin) or shouldn't (Nader) be divorced. Their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), is 11 years old, and Simin wants to leave. She believes that her daughter will have a better future in the West. 
Nader, on the other hand, does not want to leave his father, an Alzheimer's patient, who has come to live with them. Simin is exasperated - "He doesn't even know you are his son!" she exclaims. "But I know he is my father," retorts Nader. That statement underlines Nader's character - he needs to do what is 'right'. It is a trait that he exhibits several times in the movie. What makes Simin very upset is that Nader does not stop her from going away, if she wishes.
Termeh will not leave her father; and Simin will not leave without Termeh. So, matters are at a standstill because the judge will not award a decree unless both parties have agreed to it.  Until she can get Nader to sign the divorce papers (and she has a deadline - her visa is set to expire), Simin moves back into her parents' home. 

Now that Simin is no longer living with them, Nader has to hire someone to look after his father during the day while he works at the bank, and his daughter is at school. Through Simin, who knows her sister-in-law, Nader hires a devout young woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to stay with his father until he comes home in the evening. Razieh brings her little daughter Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini) with her; but she is overwhelmed the very first day. The old man is incontinent, and Razieh's finds her religious principles coming in the way of helping him clean himself. 
Her humanity comes to the fore, though, and she calls her religious adviser to find out whether it would be against her religion to change his clothes. When Nader comes home, she tells him she cannot work there anymore, but could he please hire her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini)? He is unemployed, and they are in debt. She also requests him to pretend that he has never met her - if her husband knew that she worked in Nader's house when his wife was not there, he will be very angry.

Nader agrees, but the next day sees Razieh back again. Her hot-tempered husband has been arrested and sent to prison by his creditors. Until she can arrange the bail, or plead with their creditors to take back the charge so he can be released, she will continue to work there. And so things rest, until one day, Nader comes home early to find Razieh gone, and his father unconscious on the floor, his wrist tied to the bedpost. When Razieh comes back, as she does, and without any reason for having left her charge, Nader is furious. He throws her out of the house without listening to her explanation.

This leads to grave personal consequences not only for Nader, but also for Simin, Razieh and Hodjat. As the situation becomes more and more serious, Simin comes to the aid of her estranged husband, while Razieh strives to ensure that Hodjat doesn't get into any more trouble! The children, Termeh and Somayeh, already have other serious issues that trouble them. Termeh has still to come to terms with her parents' separation; Somayeh is witness to the regular fights between her parents.
I cannot say any more without revealing the story, and the greatest strength of A Separation is the way the story is layered; like in all human interaction, the truth lies somewhere in between the two main protagonists.  

The cause is not as simple as it seems on the surface, and as the differences between the two families escalate, it seems everyone is speaking the truth - just their version of it. Somewhere, you understand the motivations for their lies of omission, because no one is intentionally bad. 
It is funny and sad, in turn, and your sympathy swerves between the participants in this human drama, as they fight for justice. This is because Farhadi does not take sides. His is a dispassionate viewpoint - everything is placed in front of you, the audience, and it is for you to judge. Or not.

All he does, is to show us the characters, their motivations, their intent, their actions, and their words, said and unsaid. We follow along, not allowed to take sides, as the story veers from one person to the other; it is ironical, then, that the daughter is asked to do so.
Farhadi also  raises the issue of the independence of women vis-a- vis their traditional roles - however independent the woman is, she is still subject to the the rules of traditional patriarchy; when the judge dismisses Simin's divorce petition, he sends them away saying that divorce has to be by mutual consent; if Nader does not sign, then the divorce cannot go through. Razieh, on the other hand, needs her husband's permission to work in the home of another man. Class also plays an important part in the conflict between the middle-class Nader, and Hodjat, unemployed and embittered. As Hodjat says in one scene, frustrated by his inability to tell his side of the story, "You know what my problem is? I can't talk like them!"

The film goes beyond the question of relationships to deal with the issues of morality vs. religion, integrity vs. expediency, right vs. 'being right'. A Separation reminds you how good a film can be, and too often, is not.

The ending is unexpected, though having seen the way the movie unfolded, it shouldn't have been. But I was not the only one in the theatre who, long after the end credits had rolled, was still sitting, waiting...


  1. A moving review of a film, which rightly got the Oscar. my Iranian friends have been recommending this to me. Maybe I will catch this soon!
    Thanks for the well-written review.

  2. Where did you get this movie ?, sounds like a good one. Wonderful review.

  3. Thank you, harvey. Yes, you shouldn't miss this one! Truly one of the most moving films I've seen in a long time.

  4. Thanks, Samir. It's playing in an arthouse cinema close to our place. Do watch it if you get a chance. It's such a wonderful little film!

  5. What sounds so wonderful about it is the way the director has portrayed the helplessness of the protagonists making them all the victims of the time and circumstances they live in.

  6.  You will have an advantage, Samir! You know Farsi!

  7. Sorry Off Topic Anu, but I've spent a good amount of time searching for a post about Geeta Dutt songs and I kind find it. Please tell me I'm not imagining that. :-(

  8. What I liked about it, harvey, is that they are both victims of circumstances *but* they have the ability to make choices - which they do, throughout. And there is no "He / she is wrong; he / she is right." It's open to you, as the spectator, to decide. Even the ending is open to your interpretation of what you would want to happen! I cannot recommend this film enough.

  9. pacifist, did you search for it on my blog? I haven't done a Geeta Dutt post. But bollyviewer did do a post on her 'happy' songs:
    here.I wonder if that's what you were looking for?

  10. @Anu & @17620e41cced45c60051f2e8dadedf22 
    I have another Iran based movie to recommend, "Persepolis"
    Harvey, you may find it interesting since the protagonist spends some time as a student in Austria.
    And thanks for bringing up my really tiny knowledge of Farsi :). I am sure your knowledge of German is probably 100 times better than my knowledge of Farsi.

  11.  ooops!! You are right *says sheepishly*

  12. Samir, I did watch Persepolis; and loved it; it's a darker movie than this, though.

  13. That sounds like an amazing movie. While I'm perfectly happy with completely escapist stuff (why would I be so fond of 60s Hindi cinema, otherwise?!), I like these very real movies too.

    Usual grouse: where do I get the time? (Maybe I should shorten this constant complaint into an abbreviation: wdigtt). Will save time every time a friend blogs about a good film I HAVE to see. 

  14. Madhu, I think your problem, as is mine, is that we re-watch many of our favourite movies (and how can we NOT do that?);  this film was showing in an arthouse cinema close to our place, and we just decided to go. If it does play anywhere near you (and it may, being an Oscar winner and all!), do take the time to go see it - you won't regret it!

    ps: I like 'wdiggtt'. Like 'doing a harvey', I think I shall co-opt this acronym too. :)

  15. I remember very reading good reviews about this film. I think Rediff had an interview with Farhadi before the Oscars. I wonder when (and whether) it will release in India (or has it already?). I hope it does.

  16. Actually, Rediff did have an interview with Farhadi. I don't know if it will release in India, though it should, what with the Oscar and all. Do watch it if you get a chance.

  17. Unusual movie to see reviewed by you, Anu, but what a pleasure! We'd been to see it when it when it came out, and were likewise moved and awed by it. The pentup atmosphere, the ties that go taut (especially for the children), the ever-present , multi-faceted, violence that erupts, everything rings true. On the strength of A separation, we also went to see About Elly, and pity to say, were disappointed. This film doesn't have the same coherence, in spite of some qualities, in the characterization especially. But A separation really deserves the best praise!

  18. :) I do watch a lot of movies like these, Yves. You're right about my reviewing more mainstream Hindi ones, though. I'll try to make up for the lapse in the future. There are so many good films that I would like to review.

    I agree completely about About Elly - it's nowhere as good as A Separation. This one really touched me deep inside. I doubt I'll be able to watch it again. Not very soon, anyway.

  19. So, a non-mainstream movie recommendation by Ms Anu; let's have some more of these coming in. Am I lone dissenter on this blog who wants to read something other than old Hindi movies, especially since you watch a wide spectrum of cinema anyway? Silly me, this is your blog after all, how can I demand:)

    Unfortunately, unless there is a film festival, it is very unlikely that this movie will be screened in India anywhere. There was a time (when I had landed in Mumbai) when PVR used to show 2-3 foreign movies every month but they stopped it due to poor public support, I suppose..Enjoyed all the Iranian movies that I have seen do far like Persepolis, Children of Heaven, Mama's Guest, Blackboards, Turtles Can Fly etc and they remarkably pull out such wonders every now and then despite the presence of an autocratic regime there.Will download the torrent for this and watch it and revisit this review..

  20. Pest! But you are not alone (see Yves' comment below). I'll try and make up for the lapse, milord. After all, if people don't read, phir blog kaisa?

  21. I found your review quite interesting but you say it should not have ended the way it did, hope it is not a disappointing end as usually happens, a film builds up you are all agog with interest and then you come crashing down at the end. 

  22. It is not a disappointing film *at all*, Shilpi. What I meant by 'unexpected' was that we, as an audience' tend to want a resolution all tidily packaged and beribboned and handed to us on a platter. But here, the ending is bittersweet, and open to your interpretation. This is one film which I would say 'Do. Not. Miss.'

  23. Well, this character- husband of their maid, it was kind of a character you come across often, and that is what made him so good to watch( I was laughing hysterically).
    I had a little issue with the movie though..*spoilers* the maid could have ..u know.. pointed out to Nader that she lost her child while saving his father. I mean, that is a huge favour she did to him

  24.  yeah, in India, all you get is supermans
    and spidermans and bonds and men in blacks..... And even these movies don't have an audience unless they are atrociously dubbed in hindi

  25.  There always was a niche audience for these movies, Rohit, and unfortunately people in small towns who *do* want to watch these are circumscribed by their location. It does not make sense to the distributors to release more than three or four prints in India because they will not recoup their investment. It's a vicious cycle.

  26. Haricharanpudipeddi15 February 2013 at 04:51

    Such a brilliant film. It moved me from the inside and definitely not a movie to be missed at any cost. One of the most important characters according to me is that of the daughter Termeh.

    Here's my review of the film - http://movieroundup.in/a-separation-the-life-changing-decision/ 

  27.  Termeh is the objective narrator, no? We almost see it from her eyes.


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