“A Separation.” This movie comes to us from Iran and so you’ll need to spend time reading subtitles if you go to see it, but if you do you won’t regret it. The film opens with Simin (Leila Hatami) making copies of travel documents. The next scene has Simin and her husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi), in front of a judge. Simin wants a divorce. Why? She wants to leave Iran. Nader refuses. He is the caregiver for his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who has Alzheimer’s. Simin insists that the father no longer recognizes them and that they must take this opportunity to leave the country. Since Nader refuses to leave, Simin wants a divorce. The judge grants the divorce and Simin moves out of the house. Their child, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), stays with her father. Interestingly, Simin does not leave the country, but instead moves in with her mother – perhaps hoping that her now ex-husband will change his mind or maybe her airplane ticket isn’t for another few weeks.
With his wife moved out of the house, Nader needs a caregiver for his father. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a very religious woman, who is conflicted regarding the job (working for a now single man). She needs the job to help out with family expenses as her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), has lost his job and has enormous debts. She brings her child, Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini), with her. The job is difficult for her as she is pregnant.
That is the set-up. The plot of the movie develops when Nader and Termeh come home early one day. The apartment is locked and Razieh and Somayeh are not around. The two enter and find that their elderly relative has fallen off the bed, his arm tied to the bed. They fear that he is dead, but he has survived. This is upsetting and when Razieh and Somayeh return a huge argument erupts. Charges of theft are lodged, as well. It ends with Nader pushing Razieh out of the house. A few hours later, Simin calls the house. Razieh is in the hospital. She has lost her baby and soon after Nader is in court facing murder charges.
When you watch this movie, you see individuals similar to the majority of us Americans: not perfect, but hardly evil. I would say that no one in this movie is bad; not even the judge/interrogator (Babak Karimi) who I found was trying to be fair, but circumstances arise where the color gray is expanded way too wide as the characters (even the children) must protect their own self-interests.
The movie has a rich societal complexity intertwined within the storyline. Nader and Simin are middle class. Nader works at a bank. Razieh and Hodjat are poor. Hodjat is in and out of jail due to his debts. During the court hearings, this issue of class comes up constantly. There is also the interesting aspect of justice in Iran. There is no jury during the trial. Instead, each side argues their case while the judge/interrogator does his best to make the right decision. Blood money is also brought up where Nader can pay to compensate for the death of the child. Religion also plays a role, especially for Razieh.
The characters are well developed. Razieh is concerned about her soul and family. Hodjat is a hothead. Nader is stubborn yet loyal. Somayeh is torn between her two parents as well as being forced to realize that sometimes not everything is black and white. As for Simin, I think she is the one that must be questioned the most. I’m not exactly sure how she felt she could demand that her husband leave his father alone – even if he has Alzheimer’s. I understand perhaps suggesting that the father be moved to a nursing home (I have no clue how prevalent such places are in Iran), but suggesting that the family leave the country seems unsympathetic to her husband’s sense of family.
In final: Is a drama supposed to make you sit on the edge of your seat? This one will.