“He is a good man.” So says Simin (Leila Hatami) about her husband in the opening scene of A Separation, in which she explains before a judge (off-screen) why she seeks a divorce. Not the words one would expect to hear in a divorce hearing. Nevertheless, sitting next to Simin, her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) is indifferent to the proceedings. We gather that he loves his wife, but he obliges with her request because his priorities lie with his ailing father, who requires care that would prevent the couple and their child from leaving their home country of Iran. Simin and Nader’s situation is not unlike the conflicts that many married couples face. What distinguishes A Separation is how perceptibly it articulates the circumstances within which the two become entangled.
The film unwinds as an uncommonly observed tragedy about Simin and Nader, as well as a handful of other characters that play in the evolving drama. The conflict eventually escalates and results in a chain of events that is as compelling as it is unpredictable. All the while, writer-director Asghar Faradi keeps a tight focus of the human scale and what really drives these folks to their actions, even as misunderstandings heighten and deceptions occur. None of these individuals wishes to inflict pain on those around them but nonetheless do—out of pain or mistrust or simply fear. A Separation never resorts to violence, but it resolves in an arguably more devastating way. And it plays out so convincingly because Faradi doesn’t have the agenda that shapes many other stories about broken connection and communication. Thus, the drama unfolds smoothly and with the further aid of an understatedly intimate aesthetic that sharpens the film's emotional verisimilitude.
A Separation went on to win the Oscar in the foreign language film category at the 2011 Academy Awards, but there was little doubt that it would have performed otherwise. Due largely to the influence of the Weinstein brothers on Oscar campaigning, the race in many categories is seldom about artistic merit. However, A Separation represents an example in which a genuinely great work deserved the recognition it received from being awarded Oscar Gold. It resounds beyond its own intimate settings and focused dramatic scope to channel a much broader human struggle of navigating the complex trappings of political, religious, and cultural identity. A Separation is about the intersections of these facets of ourselves and where and how they collide in our relationships. (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) ****