Well-crafted A Separation examines a modern Iranian marriage
Unconvinced of the necessity of Simin's argument, the judge refuses to grant a divorce, after which she moves into her mother's house. While seeing both parents (and being the only party aware that both of them are basically waiting for the other to "come to their senses" and reconcile), Termeh stays at home with dad, who is quickly overwhelmed by having to care for grandpa. To pick up the slack he hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who desperately needs the income as her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is unemployed. Yet she's afraid to tell the latter about this job, and fears that it might violate their strict religious observances prove well-founded when what was billed as a simple housekeeping job instead proves much more suited to a nurse inured toward patient nudity and bodily fluids. Worse, her apparent abandonment of duty provokes an argument with Nader that drags all concerned into another, potentially much more serious court battle.
Farhadi worked in theater before moving into films a decade ago. His close attention to character and performance (developed over several weeks' pre production rehearsal) has the acuity sported by contemporary playwrights like Kenneth Lonergan and Theresa Rebeck, fitted to a distinctly cinematic urgency of pace and image. None of the protagonists would likely consider themselves highly political. Yet the class differences and overlapping pressures experienced by both the white- and blue-collar couples here reveal a great deal about how a fissuring system is failing ordinary citizens, whether governmentally, economically, or ideologically.
There are moments that risk pushing plot mechanizations too far, and the use of both families' children (esp. the director's daughter, who looks of voting age while playing an 11-year-old) as silent, accusatory watchers of adult folly borders on cliché. But A Separation pulls off something very intricate with deceptive simplicity, offering a sort of integrated Rashomon (1950) in which every participant's viewpoint as the wronged party is right — yet in conflict with every other. The escalating tensions that result pull you toward a resolution that might bang or whimper, but even there Farhadi springs the kind of high-wire trick that might seem pretentious or a cop-out in any film less exacting in its juggling act.
A SEPARATION opens Fri/20 in San Francisco.