The Iranian family drama A Separation is a film that is foreign and alien, even as it is a universal tale. It is very much a film set in Iran and that feels like it could only be set in Iran as the Sharia laws hold prominence among the poor and middle class alike. But at the same time, it is also a husband and wife separating with their daughter caught in the middle.
Nader and Simin are a married couple, currently embroiled in an argument deep enough to be going through a divorce. After years of bureaucracy and waiting they have been granted visas to leave Iran and emigrate overseas with their young teenage daughter Termeh. Simin is all prepared to go but Nader will not leave his Alzheimer sufferer father behind in Tehran; Simin will not leave without Termeh and so the whole family is stuck in limbo. As Simin moves back to her parent’s Nader has to find a new carer for his father while he works, so hires Razieh; a woman poorer but possibly more religious than they. There are difficulties with Razieh – she has her young daughter in tow and has troubles of her own to concern herself with; her husband is in debt and unable to find work.
These are all just people, struggling and just trying to get their way through life. However, everything comes to a head and the lives of all concerned spiral even further into accusation, cross-accusation, lying, bargaining, betrayal and looming imprisonment. What makes the drama real, what gives it life, is the way in which every character reacts in a believable and character-focussed way. Every event, every turning point, is motivated by the characters and their decisions. It is messy; no answers are given or looked for. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” here; the poorer couple are not thieves and nor are they paragons of virtue while the middle-class couple, though briefly putting their differences aside, are neither reliable nor truly duplicitous.
A Separation feels like a brave film, giving a Western audience a glimpse into the life of modern Tehran. In amongst the terrorists and religious police and protestors and many others, there are regular people trying to live their lives. It doesn’t aim to politicise events and is almost all but removed from the political realm (as much as is possible in daily life and a story involving the courts), instead finding its focus with these two families.
The chaotic court system and intermingling of law and religion is a foreign concept to me but, due to the strong work done on the characters, A Separation is an eminently relatable film. And this was proven by the audience that packed out the massive Embassy Theatre for this weekday morning showing.