December 31, 2011

Movie Review: A Separation

Slated to be one of the best films to come out in 2011, A Separation, fits its billing. The opening scene sets up the plot right away: Nader and Simin are at divorce court. Simin says her husband is fault-less, decent and a very nice man in fact, but he is unwilling to leave Iran to go abroad and seek a better life. Simin has visas for the family, which includes 13 year old Termeh. But Nader does not want to leave his ailing Alzheimer's afflicted father. And Termeh wants to stay with her dad, safe in the knowledge that her mother wouldn't leave her behind. The judge says he cannot do anything when the husband cannot be faulted and does not want the divorce, to boot.

Every scene that follows is action packed - and important to the movie. So don't forget to pay attention. Simin and Nader hire a woman to help take care of the grandfather when no one is at home. Simin goes away to live with her parents. The woman who comes in to help, Razieh, comes from an orthodox background. On the very first day, she is torn when she sees that the grandpa has soiled himself. She is on the phone to someone, evidently an expert on customs, and explains the situation: an old man who is 70 or 80 cannot change his pants. Is it alright for her to change him? No, she tried telling him to do it himself, he doesn't understand and is helpless. It can't be a sin, right?

She changes him, but tells Nader she cannot do the job anymore, especially if it involved touching another man. Nader is perturbed, as his father always told them if he wanted to go to the bathroom. His condition must be getting worse. Razieh asks if her husband can come and work the same job, but Nader is not to tell him anything about her working here. Her husband doesn't know, and presumably would not have permitted to come and work for a single man.

The next day Razieh loses the grandfather when she is distracted by her 4 year old daughter Somayeh while she was cleaning up the house. She goes in search of the grandfather. After a few panic stricken minutes, she sees him at a shop, and he starts to move away and begins to walk toward the road. Vehicles keep crossing, but we don't know what happens next. Not yet anyway. Razieh and the grandfather are safely back at home in the next scene, while Nader, Termeh and Somayeh play foosball together. Razieh's husband has still not turned up for work instead of her. She says its because he is in jail and she had to beg the lenders to get him out of there, but she will come to work until her husband can. Termeh's teacher is seen giving Razieh the number of a gynecologist to check on her pregnancy.

There are scenes where Nader teaches Termeh Farsi, and even gets her to fill up at a gas station. She comes back in and says, but everyone was watching me. The scene clearly shows cultural nuances, but also that Nader is broad minded enough to want his daughter to be independent and stand up for herself. He makes her go back to the attendant when he sees that Termeh didn't get back any change for the 40. Termeh says but the remaining 3.5 was his tip! Well, when he works the pump he gets a tip, don't let yourself be taken in...go get back the change, says Nader. Termeh goes back, and Nader watches in the rear view mirror as his daughter talks to the attendant and convinces him to give her the change back. When she hands him the change, he tells her its hers.

When Nader and Termeh come back on the third day, they can't get into the house. After fetching his keys from the car, he goes in, and Termeh finds her grandfather on the floor of his room, hands tied to armrests. Thankfully he isn't dead. But he doesn't speak a word. When Razieh comes back, Nader is mad. There is money missing in the kitchen. After a blow out, he asks her to leave. When Razieh asks to be paid for the day, he refuses, saying she has taken her due. After a minor scuffle at the door, Nader pushes her hand and shuts the door.

Simin tells Nader later that evening that Razieh is in the hospital. Both of them rush to the hospital. The nurse at the reception says that Razieh had a miscarriage. Razieh's husband Houjat finds out that his wife was working in another man's house - and that he may have caused the miscarriage. An angry man, he gets violent and gets into a scuffle.

They go to court. And the accusation is murder, as the aborted foetus was 4.5 months old and hence considered a fully formed person. Nader says he doesn't know that she was pregnant. This detail is important. If he knows, and yet pushed Razieh, its willful murder. Its the difference between going scot-free and spending 1-3 years in jail.

What follows is a close examination of everyone's moralities, class differences, Termeh's questioning of her father, and Razieh's doubts. "I cannot speak as well as him, but that doesn't mean he can get away with murdering my child" says Houjat in one scene. He has been unemployed for a year and is on anti-depressants. The little child Somayeh, even with a few lines, adds to the story line and the intimate portrayal of each character, interpretations and relationships. Is Nader guilty? Is the relationship between Nader and Simin beyond repair? Who will Termeh choose to stay with?

"The law sees everything as absolute" explains Nader to Termeh, when the ever watchful girl asks him a question about his motivations and examines his guilt while trying to understand.

A Separation is a complex and layered movie, with brilliant acting and editing, and gives you great insight into Iranian culture. In the end though, we all have more in common than we think: we are afflicted with similar concerns, relationships and conflicting moralities. And if you find a ton of Farsi words (mushkil, har roz, zindagi, mard etc) that are common to Hindi, don't be surprised.


Jimmy Jarred said...

A thoughtful movie that will please you at all levels. I saw it last Friday and enjoyed it very much.
A Separation Online

Rush said...

Thanks, Jimmy. Hope you found the review helpful!