If one wished to allege that Americans are woefully ignorant about visual arts in the world’s non-English speaking countries, movies would make an excellent contribution to that argument. Thousands of foreign-language movies are produced around the world annually and hundreds of them earn critical acclaim where they’re shown. Unfortunately, less than a trickle ever make it to our shores and when they do, they’re confined to an “art house” only in the largest U.S. cities. Why? The simple truth is embarrassing: most of us won’t see a film that’s sub-titled. What an indictment of our cultural philistinism - - not to mention our reading skills!
Case in point? This one, which was named best foreign-language film at the Oscar’s late last month. It was made in Iran by Asghar Farhadi, the brilliant 40-year old writer/director who has garnered nearly 50 competitive awards on every continent except Antarctica for the 10 scripts he’s written, half of which he also directed.
Separation is a mesmerizing analysis of how cultures can frame and then come to dominate even the simplest of domestic arguments. The storyline involves Nader, a well-educated & prosperous professional whose wife Simin seeks a divorce because Nader refuses to leave Iran so he can continue to provide a home for his elderly father, addled by Alzheimer’s. The couple have one child, a lovely but shy teenager who’s terrified at the impending collapse of her small family.
Pending the divorce, Simin moves out of the family’s small but comfortable apartment that requires the employment of Raziek, a domestic helper who brings her young daughter with her to Nader’s apartment to clean and look after the severely incapacitated head of the family.
Raziek’s inability to manage these circumstances leads to an incident that causes Nader to argue with her and then angrily push her out the door of his second story apartment. She falls as a result and is sent to a hospital where Nader and Simin meet her husband Hodjat, an unemployed laborer astounded that his wife was working outside their home without his permission.
What follows is a meticulously documented (and brilliantly acted) tragedy in which the societal expectations of both men lead to an escalating war of nerves that disintegrates into an agonizing display of cultural machismo, with both wives and daughters becoming collateral damage…</p>
The cast, all Iranians with extensive experience, make these characters come alive in a searing display of the corrosive effects of societal norms that permit - indeed encourage – the rejection of legitimate compromise.
Universal in its cross-cultural reach yet full of subtle commentary on contemporary Iran, A Separation is one of the best films audiences around the world will see this year. Too bad so many in the U.S. won’t have that opportunity.
The verdict? A gem. Remember the name and rent it for home viewing when you can.
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