By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
A popular conceit in reviewing Iranian films revolves around the mention of Western relations with their country, and the assurance that Iranians are normal people just like the rest of us, all delivered with an air of self-righteousness tinged with a hint of incredulity. If for some reason you had any doubt about that, I’d recommend giving the films of Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, or especially Abbas Kiarostami a try. Or, this year’s much acclaimed A Separation is not a bad place to start.
Now this. This would be a bad place to start.
A Separation begins with a virtuoso scene in which a married couple, Nader and Simin, air out their marital issues in front of a divorce judge. Simin’s leaving prompts Nader to hire a poor woman, Razieh, to take care of his Alzheimers-suffering father during the day. A tragedy draws all of them, as well as Nader and Simin’s precocious and conflicted teenage daughter and Razieh’s volatile unemployed husband, Hodjat, into the Iranian court system.
This film is at a ridiculous 99% on Rotten Tomatoes right now, the lone opposition review surprisingly not from Armond White, who’s probably too busy finding Kanye West videos to praise over Darren Aronofsky films.
Basically, Anton Ego, gorged on fetal alcohol syndrome
The praise is well-deserved, as director Asghar Farhadi blends stunning slow reveals and meticulous shooting angles with the incredibly realistic performances he is able to elicit (especially Ali-Asghar Shahbazi’s heartbreaking rendering of Nader’s father) to create an almost technically perfect film. This serves to envelope the audience in a story that is firmly based in the rational worldviews of each of the characters, but which becomes increasingly dire and convoluted as these worldviews butt against each other, entangling in their obstinate pride and the escalating half-truths and lies that spring from it. There are no heroes and villains, just fully realized people, whihc amplifies the conflict and drama all the more.
Expectations are a bitch.
They’re nigh on unavoidable when you run a website about the film business, doubly so when you also cover the Oscars. My expectations were through the roof for this one, and I can’t really fault the film itself for not meeting them. Still, A Separation failed to impact me as massively as I had hoped and I think ultimately that it will rank alongside films like The Edge of Heaven and Three Monkeys as very good, but not truly great, examples of Middle Eastern cinema this decade. If you had to pin me to a reason, I’d say that the divorce that is presented as the center of the film’s conflict ultimately takes a back seat to the dispute between the two couples, and the role of Simin suffers as a result. A little more development for her would have been nice.
This is one of the very best films of the year, and pretty much a how-to for realistic cinema. Asghar Farhadi adds himself to my long list of Iranian directors with ‘must-watch’ status.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone cuts someone off
Take a Drink: whenever you hear/read ‘judge’
Take a Drink: every time a pregnancy is mentioned
Drink a Shot: every time Hodjat blows up