84/100 (123 min, 2011)
Plot: A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat
Unable to stay, unable to go.
"A Separation", the movie that is probably going to win Best Foreign Picture Oscar this Sunday, is a compelling and extremely dynamic story of two families - one consists of Nader, Simin and their daughter Razieh. Simin wants to leave the country in order to have a better life. Nader wants to stay in Iran with his family and with his ill father. Both of them have their reasons for their decisions and the inability to compromise will lead them to the titular separation, when despite their bonds and feelings because of the choices they made they will have to follow different paths. Right in the middle of family crisis is 11-year old Razieh who loves both of her parents and must decide which one of them she wants to live with.
The second family is Termeh and Hodjat and their little daughter. Termeh is hired to take care of Nader's father but because of many personal problems and different occurrences she is unable to perform her job as well as Nader expects her to. That leads to the chain of events that eventually will lead two families to the court, forcing them to confront each other and in doing so, confronting their deepest feelings and sense of morality, and seek answers for what's right and what is wrong.
"A Separation" is an extremely well written film - although we see typical family drama here, the pace is so fast and energetic it could just as easily be a chilling thriller. Between very authentic dialogues and the progression of the story where the author cleverly doesn't let us in on all the details, we keep waiting for what is going to happen, because since all the characters in the movie essentially want different things there is no way of telling what will the resolution to the story be.
The movie's strong asset is that the story is quite universal - it focuses on two families and their problems could have just as easily happen in completely different environment, minus certain details specific to Iranian culture. The story deals with problems known to everyone - the conflict with a loved one, the desire to protect your children, the inner compulsion to the right thing. There are however many interesting moments where we get a glimpse at the specifics of the culture, for example when Termeh is calling to check if she can remove old man's pants since he wet himself and she is supposed to take care of him.
The acting is all around wonderful but for me the standouts were two women who played Termeh and Simin - the first one is played by Sarina Farhadi who gets to play the most ambiguous character in the movie - on one hand she wants to protect her family, especially her little daughter and she wants to do a good job caring for Nader's parent. But on the other she is willing to cause harm to the other family, unable to stand up to her husband living in fear of him and of great sins her actions could cause. Simin is played by Leila Hatami, who has such powerful on screen presence you can't take your eyes off her whenever she appears on the screen. As Simin determined to take her daughter with her out of the country, but still having strong feelings towards her husband she is almost like a separate force that commands the screen every time she appears on it.