One thing the Oscars got right: picking Best Foreign Film.
February 28, 2012
A Separation had long been quietly gathering momentum, winning the Sydney Film Festival prize and making the Guardian's list of the top films of 2011. Now it's won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, it's suddenly got a louder and startlingly unanimous profile as one of the must-see films of the year.
This is the appropriate response to a story that unfolds slowly enough to make you truly care for its characters yet so tensely as to keep you awake and feverishly reading the subtitles at 2am. In a year when the cloying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a contender for Best Picture, it's worth thanking the Academy for exalting a film that's light on sentimentality but full of deeply emotive moments that come at you from your blindside.
The unpretentiously shot Iranian feature, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, starts with the separation of Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami). Simin wants to move the family abroad, but Nader won't leave his senile and dependent father or let Simin go with just their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). So Simin moves to her mother's while she continues to press the issue, and Nader hires some casual help for his father. Razieh (Sareh Bayat) is a pious and compassionate minder, but she's also wrapped up in her own concerns for her unborn baby and her husband's debts.
When these conflict with her obligations to Nader, it leads to a confrontation that will create unforeseeable damage to the lives of both couples. Not one of them deserves to bear the blow of these tiny, incremental tragedies, and your already torn sympathies will shift as the film subverts expectations based on gender, class and ethnicity.
A Separation carries a feeling of almost 'this is what movies should be': Small, real, relatable stories that awaken you to the dormant problems in a wider society. Its success is also a boost for Iran's dogged film industry, from where we hear more about what we sadly can't see than what we can.
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