Movie Review – A Separation (2011)

A Separation, 2011.

Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi.
Starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi.


A married couple are faced with separation when they’re unable to agree on a difficult, life changing decision. Should they leave Iran to improve the life of their adolescent daughter, or stay in Iran and look after an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s?

The opening of A Separation sees Simin (Leila Hatami) pleading with a legal mediator / judge to be granted a divorce from her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi), but her request is rejected by the Iranian legal authority. As Simin moves out and they begin the titular separation, she can no longer care for Nader’s house-bound father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) so Nader employs Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to look after him. I fear to give away too much by telling you anything further about the story, but I have to say that a dispute occurs over the quality of her care and results in an event that colours the rest of the film.

Iranian cinema is probably my favourite international regional cinema. The vice-like censorship that the government places on their creative community has cultivated an eloquent, poetic visual and scripted language that doesn’t need to be overt to be able to say powerful things within the cinematic medium. The layered and loaded scenes / characters / visual composition of the great Iranian works of the last two decades have left critics and cinema loving audiences around the globe speechless, moved and rabid for more.

A Separation is a profound social document. In the guise of a somewhat melodramatic catalyst, (now Oscar-winning) writer-director Asghar Farhadi examines modern Iran. Farhadi covers the tense and tenuous relationship between upper and lower class Iran, the relationship between religion and class, the influence of religion in different spheres of society, Iranian law and its relationship to religion, and finally takes a very relatable, humanist approach to portraying real authentic feeling characters that don’t easily fit into the archetypal binaries of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Farhadi builds a veritable web of multi-forked roads where the characters’ decisions impact not only themselves but the symbiotic group occupying the film.

This is an amazing ensemble piece that rests solely on the performers and Farhadi’s ability to get them to occupy their characters. I feel that I have to mention all of the key players individually because of what they’re able to bring to the role…

Peyman Moaadi seems to repress his emotion as Nader. In order to be in control of situations with the more emotional Simin he seems detached and uncaring. In the quiet and intimate moments where he’s caring for his invalid father who barely recognises who he is, there’s such a sweet damaged tenderness that evokes so much of the emotional truth of the character.

Leila Hatami’s Simin can’t control her emotions where Nader’s involved. She desperately wants him to engage and fight with and for her. She’s an independent and fiercely intelligent character that feels oppressed by the state of Iran and is desperate to get her daughter out of a country that she perceives can and will suppress her future. However she’s got a glacial intelligence that is portrayed when she’s protecting Nader from the ‘event’ in the film.

Sareh Bayat gives us an insight into religious Iran; Razieh’s concerned that her activities in the care of an elderly man are sinful, and at one point calls a priest to query if assisting him wash is sinful. Her performance demonstrates the inner turmoil of the timid obedient stereotypical devout Muslim woman, and contrasts it with an extrovert impassioned defensive display when she’s required to protect her family or her reputation in the eyes of God.

Shahab Hosseini is wonderful as the defeated and soft spoken Hodjat (Razieh’s husband) who effortlessly mutates into a threatening and volatile man with nothing to lose. Hosseini is the kind of character that you empathize with, detest, are afraid of and are shocked by how decisively he cuts to the really burning questions. This is a dynamic performance that I would love to lead to more international acting work.

Sarina Farhadi is wonderful as the measured and studious Termeh, the daughter of Simin and Nader. There’s a quiet determination in her that denotes her potential. She’s also desperately (and subtly) trying to hold her parents’ fractured relationship together by staying with her father. There are some moments that the fate of her family is unconsciously placed into her hands and the young actress must be commended for her nuanced, rich and measured reactions.

Asghar Farhadi paints real, ambiguous, and engaging people in this bad situation, and ultimately contrasts the beauty and ugliness of humanity. A Separation infuses a great insight into modern Iran with a powerful insight into the human condition – this demonstrates the power and poetic potential of cinematic drama. It’s a MUST see.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ***** / Movie **

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the Follow him on Twitter here:@blakeisbatman.