Monday, April 23, 2012

A Separation - Movie Review

Is 'A Separation' the modern day Rashomon?  is the first question that came to my mind.

Every couple of years there comes a movie that involves us beyond the screen. A few years back, it was The Reader and this year, 'A Separation' surpasses it in terms of it's simplicity of presentation along with depth of emotion.

The movie commences with a couple, Simin and Nader, in a divorce court. The reason for the divorce is  simple - Simin wants to move out of Iran for better prospects for their 12 year old daughter, Termeh.  Nader cannot leave the country since he is the sole care-taker of his Alzheimer-stricken father. The divorce is denied but Simin separates to live in her mother's house. A house-help, Razieh, is employed to look after the demented father during  the day. Razieh, along with her 4 year old daughter, struggles with the burden of managing  the household chores as well as the care of a forgetful and sick old man. She is caught between her religious beliefs (of a woman taking care of a man with no chaperone around) and the need to make ends meet.

At this point the movie could have easily become predictable - by either projecting the plight of Iran and why Simin wants to flee the country, or by focusing on religious beliefs and the way it affects common people. But 'A Separation' does neither. Instead it's sole focus is the intricacies of people's lives. We are drawn into the plight of Razieh that we forget about her religion but sympathize with her situation.

One day Nader and Termeh come home to see the old man fallen off the bed and his hands tied. This infuriates Nader, who wonders along with the audience where Razieh disappeared.
A distraught Razieh returns after some time and tries to explain that she only tied the old man to prevent him from wandering. A furious Nader pushes Razieh out of his house.What follows is a complaint by Razieh's husband against Nader for causing a miscarriage.

We feel deeply sympathetic to all characters. Nader is an amazing son and a fine father. We sense this when Nader, back from work, strikes a fine balance between looking after his father as well as his daughter.
Surely he must be on the right. But again, our heart reaches out to Razieh - pregnant and a good-for-nothing husband forcing her to take up a tiring job. Some of us might be angry with Simin for leaving her family and moving to her mother's house. We also weigh the options just like Termeh does. Like the self-righteousness of a 12 year old, she wants to support whoever is right.

Surprisingly, the judge is neither corrupt nor prejudiced.The questions asked by the judge not only confuse the 12 year old daughter but also the audience.Did Nader know that Razieh was pregnant? Where did Razieh disappear after tying the father?What caused the miscarriage?

If you peel the different layers of this intrinsic story, the heart of movie is the confusion between what is right and wrong? What does one do in a state of helplessness ? Does a parent teach a child what is right or what is convenient?  'A Separation' tries to balance it all as if it were an apple on the tip of the pencil.


Anonymous said...

On a more attentive viewing of the film, the opening scene has some strange undertones. Simin asks Nader to explain why he does not want to leave the country’s ‘circumstances’ behind and join her in leaving Iran for a hopefully better life in the West? Nader says she knows the reasons very well already and there are many. Simin challenges him to present to the court just one good reason. Nader claims his demented father’s need of care as just one reason. Simin retorts that this is only an excuse!
Is it too much if a viewer like I, be wondering about all the other multitude of reasons, some of which according to Simin would be the real ones?
Why are these other reasons not put to the judge (viewers)?

Chimera said...

very insightful comment.I think every movie has it's own affect on the viewer. Many things are usually left to the viewer's perception or interpretation. I did not notice what you mentioned but it shows how the viewer is engaged constantly while watching this movie. Thanks for the detailed comment, do I know you ?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. No, you don't know me. I live in Iran and have been following the progress of this outstanding Iranian director. His latest film extensively uses ambiguity and multi-level metaphor - very common in classical Persian literature. So the viewers have a field day, falling down their own rabbit holes! Meanwhile Farhadi absolutely refuses to endorse any of the multitude of interpretations to his story. Hence my search for some selected reviewer's answers to my query. I have read reviews that have suggested that the father symbolizes Iran and Alzheimer's the political affliction threatening its old culture. So, Nader wants to stay in Iran to save what can be saved and train her daughter - the next generation - to face the challenges ahead. Whereas Simin being modern and pragmatic wants to call it a day and leave for the comforts of the West.
Isn't this over analyzing?

Arvind Swarup Pathiki said...

@Anonymous: at the outset, i confess that i have to yet watch the film.

on the other hand, the points you mentioned on the interpretations and metaphors of a work make me jump into this discussion. i always find it exciting to search for meanings that are implied but are never explicitly mentioned. it amuses me a great deal when the whole world is upto finding deeper meanings in a creator's work and and the creator debunks them all with a reckless wave of hand. case in point is 'The Old Man and the Sea'. Ernest Hemingway got tired of all the metaphors around the story and famously said, "There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse". would such remarks deter the reader or the viewer from creating his own meanings from a work? i dont think so. it is these personal resonances that they create that make these works enduring and endearing. sorry to butt in and go on a tangent.

Anonymous said...

The analogy with Hemingway doesn't go very far. Farhadi gave an interview some months ago which sheds some light on this discussion. “As Ingmar Bergman used to say, messages are for the telegraph office,” he added, speaking in Persian through an interpreter. “There’s a difference between intentions and message. My intention was to create a story and let you interpret what it means. To me, that is more effective filmmaking than to just give a manifesto or slogans.” On another occasion he said he had his own interpretation but does not want to disclose it.