A Separation (2012, Iran)

Director: Asgar Farhadi

Around year’s end, I began to see this film on nearly every Top 10 film list I laid eyes on.  (And indeed, it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars.)  So after all the hoopla, I must say I expected to like it more than I did.  That said, I certainly appreciated it…particularly the immense complexity of the situation which ensues and how each and every character is effected by it.

The film does a spectacular job of presenting each character in such a way that you empathize with every one of them, even if at times you also want to scream in frustration at them and/or question/disagree with their actions.  All sides and all of the reasoning and thought processes of the characters manage to be conveyed, which is quite a feat considering how intricately layered the story is.

We are looking at issues as far-ranging as familial loyalty (on multiple levels ~ care of elderly parents as well as of children), the collapse/disintegration of a marriage and its effect on the couple’s (wise beyond her years) adolescent daughter, trying to make ends meet and the lengths to which one must go in order to survive, religious beliefs and conviction, accusations of theft and murder, the Iranian legal system, honesty vs. dishonesty (or perhaps more fittingly here, truth vs. lies), trust vs. doubt…all within the context of two hours.     

It is an emotionally daring and draining film, one which actually left me feeling rather cold and empty, which is somewhat surprising given that all of the characters involved in the story are sympathetic and ultimately just trying to survive and care for those they love.  It’s most disturbing to see the detrimental (and it is assumed permanently scarring) effect the events have on the children of the parents involved, particularly the 11-year old daughter (who appeared much older and far more mature than most 11-year-olds I know), who is, more than once, left (forced?) to determine the course of the fate of both her parents and herself, a cruel and unusual punishment for one so young and innocent. I felt SO deeply sorry and sad for her for the pain, confusion, fear, sadness, doubt, pressure and trauma she was clearly experiencing.  Which makes the movie’s conclusion (or more accurately lack thereof) all the more effective (if not emotionally torturous), as we are left waiting outside a courtroom, alongside her parents, to learn with which parent she has chosen to live.  We feel at once both the anticipation and the helpless resignation of each parent as they await word of their only child’s decision.  And truly, I couldn’t say which she would choose.  A wrenching ending to a wrenching story.

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