Friction in full force

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 21/04/2012
A Separation

SEPARATION ANXIETY: Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as the couple considering divorce.

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A SEPARATION

Director: Asghar Farhadi
123 mins

The characters are always talking in A Separation. They argue relentlessly, use emotional blackmail, and stand their ground in the face of enormous pressure. It might be the year's loudest film. But is anyone listening?

Asghar Farhadi's Iranian domestic drama throws the viewer head-first into the turmoil. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to divorce her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi), but not because she doesn't love Nader. She wants to leave the country for a better life, taking their daughter with them. Nader wants to stay to care for his elderly Alzheimer's-ridden father. The judge dismisses Simin's claim. It is "only a small problem", the judge says.

Even in the opening sequence, Farhadi's focus is unrelenting. His aggressive close-ups frame the pair in such a way to suggest the cracks have already emerged.

The pair's troubles escalate: Simin leaves their home, forcing Nader to hire a maid, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who is so devout she is barely capable of looking after Nader's father. A brief altercation between Nader and Razieh occurs, who later miscarries. If Nader is found responsible for the miscarriage, albeit unwittingly, he's guilty of culpable homicide under Iranian law.

A Separation tries to give every character equal weight, but it means the audience must work hard to keep up. The conflicts run the gamut from class to religion: there is little reprieve, particularly once Razieh's embattled husband Hodjat (an explosive Shahab Hosseini) enters the fray.

The cast's sympathetic performances complement Farhadi's unadorned shooting style. In most domestic dramas, the children are merely ciphers for the parents' problems. In this film, the two child actors – teenager Sarina Farhadi (as Nader and Simin's daughter) and pre-schooler Kimia Hosseini (as Razieh and Hodjat's daughter) – disappear so thoroughly into their roles they're barely acting at all.

A Separation leaves little to chance. Every single moment seems significant, even if it is just a shot of cracked glass. The closing scene brings the conflict full circle, but ends in an unresolved silence.

A gut-wrenching, occasionally deafening experience, and a deserved winner of Best Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards.

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- The Timaru Herald

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