GEMS OF 2011: A Separation

With A Separation, filmmaker Asghar Farhadi throws his storytelling back to a time and style where political statements had to be buried not-so-obviously (a la, say, Mad Men) within the context of a deeply textured, metaphorical plot. Here we get a domestic drama shrouded in non-stop bickering, shot with a realistic, handheld bravura normally reserved for films that take place anywhere but the kitchen. However, Farhadi’s film shows us that in Iran, as much as anywhere else, the tensions that arise within the family can be even more complicated to negotiate than those of the state. In fact, the fragile humanity of lying, cheating, stealing, and fighting behind this film could learn a thing or two from the black and white rigidity of a system like Iran’s judicial process.

The film begins with a seemingly simple act: A woman leaves her husband. This act, however, sets off a string of circumstances that spiral all those involved completely out of control. The writing is so measured and pure that it’s virtually impossible to discern. At one point late in the film, the two almost innocent children fit to endure all the “adult” drama around them, make eye contact in the waiting room of a courthouse. The moment is held fleetingly, as these two girls stare knowingly at each other. Their lives have turned into living hells and the solutions makes so much sense yet the experienced grownups around them can’t figure out any easy way possible to solve these problems. I’m perplexed as to how a moment so beautifully real, one that invokes the greatest image-based power of cinema, could have possibly come from a page. The question of how much of the film is improvisational will likely come to mind after you let the themes and drama settle in. It’s an astonishing feat in performance and controlled direction. More so, though, A Separation is a testament to how powerful movies can be when they stay small, theme-based, and thoughtful.

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