Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed A Separation, is an Iranian film of Shakespearean complexity of characters, moral and ethical ambiguity. Every social interaction has its consequence for which there is no resolution.
The plot – separated husband employs a woman to care for his father who has Alzheimer’s disease and inadvertently pushes her down the stairs, and act that may or may not have led to the death of her unborn baby – is simple in its outline and serves as the structure within which to construct an ever mutating fabric of social, legal and religious complexity.
The filmic style may initially be difficult for a western audience raised on Hollywood; natural lighting, environmental sounds and dialog recorded on location, hand held camera work that initially seems naive but becomes integrated with more traditional mounted tracking and pan shots but no long or wide angle lenses, only middle shots.
In addition, a western audience has to suspend judgment and view characters living within a very different set of culture norms. We are asked to take other people’s point of view of what is right or wrong, to accept the ways of another culture, to accept that there are difference in our view of the world. We cannot judge with western eyes. In truth, Farhadi has created a situation where we cannot, and should not, judge.
All five of the principals – Nader (Peyman Moadi), Simin (Leila Hatami), Termeh(Sarina Farhadi), Razieh( Sareh Bayat), and Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) – are decent but imperfect people. Each one tries to do his or her best as each sees it; each one tries to do what they believe to be right but each is one without the tolerance to allow the other to do the same.
The film shows how culture and tradition infect the legal system, as true in any country as it is in the Iran of this film, and how each character is inflexible in his or her belief that he or she is behaving correctly under civil and religious laws. As the film unfolds we realize that, whatever we believe, none of us – the characters in the film, or people in the audience, each of us in our daily life – none of us has all the facts.
There are no villains, no black or white, only shades of gray. Roger Ebert summed it up when reviewing A Separation “Sometimes the law is not adequate to deal with human feelings”.
Finally, the ending of A Separation shows that there are no easy answers, if any answer at all.