Well, it’s November. Kind of a bleak month, isn’t it? I should review something sad, and I’ve been doing a really good job of not being too snobby in my film selection recently. Screw it. I’m reviewing a critically acclaimed, sad foreign movie. Anyway, last week was very successful, so I should try to tone down my Internet appeal a little.
A Separation (2011) (Note: If I were really pretentious, I would refer to it in its original Farsi title.)
Verdict: I feel dirty comparing it to Predator 2; maybe I should think of a new gimmick.
The Plot: Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Payman Maadi) are married, but probably not for long, as they’ve run into a problem. Simin wants to leave Iran to give their daughter (Sarina Farhadi) better educational opportunities, but Nader feels obligated to stay to look after his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer’s. Oh no! Both characters want reasonable things and have strong, relatable moral obligations! Both characters are simultaneously in the wrong and the right. This is how you set up an effective drama, people. Things get more complicated and ambiguous when Nader hires a woman (Sareh Bayat) to look after his father, and, after pushing her out of his house for neglecting her duties, is accused of causing her miscarriage.
Important to mention, and even more important to understand, is the fact that these two families (that would be Nader’s family, and the family of the woman, Razieh) belong to two different sects of Islam. All of the characters inhabit a world ruled in part by a religious law, defined by the Quran, and all of them obey it the best that they can. In obeying one rule, however, most end up shortchanging another, which is what causes the conflict. The self-contradictory nature of this moral code is central to the film, but writer/director Asghar Farhadi does not specifically condemn Islamic law, he’s merely pointing out the flaws in any judicial system. In fact, this film is even-handed almost to a fault (almost). There is no single antagonist or protagonist; no one does anything really that bad, and, as I mentioned before, everyone is simultaneously wrong and right. In that way, A Separation is achingly realistic. Farhadi’s characters are so well drawn that watching the movie is like reading the judge’s report on the case, but with more emotion.
This realism is solidified in an all-around flawless cast. No one chews the scenery, overacts, underacts, or is just plain bad. Even the children (including Farhadi’s own daughter) give nuanced, hard-hitting performances. It’s difficult for foreign actors and filmmakers to become mainstream in America, and I’m sure that none of these actors will develop into household names outside of Iran, but that’s a real shame. Everyone who worked on this film is extremely talented, more so than many Hollywood stars. The film did win one Academy Award, of the two for which it was nominated, but I guess that’s why we don’t live and die by the Oscars.
I’m thinking that this is, in part, a result of the movie being so damn sad. It’s not just American Movie Sad, though, it’s the foreign brand of sadness that only works because the film is in a different language. I know that if it had been in English, I probably would have dismissed it as shameless Oscar bait, and not raw, powerful cinematic realism. Realism has never done anything except hurt people. You know what movie really cheers me up? Toy Story. You know what’s not realistic? Toy Story. You know what movie really makes me sad? Bicycle Thieves. You know what’s realistic? Bicycle Thieves. A Separation is a painful movie to watch, but not in the way that, say, Blue Velvet is painful to watch. There’s no blood or nudity or drug abuse in A Separation, just people trying to do what they think is right, and that can be soul-crushing. It is worth noting, though, that Toy Story 3 is a tearjerker.
Turning now to relevant things, if you’re in the mood for a movie about storms, I recommend 2011’s Take Shelter. If you want to watch a movie about elections, try The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Frank Sinatra does Kung Fu. If you can’t let go of the Halloween season, you should fix that. It’s over now. If you want to watch a Disney movie check out Star Wars.