A SEPARATION has a striking opening sequence. The titles roll as documents are scanned and recorded, then there are two characters gazing at the camera, positioning the audience as a judge presiding over the situation that they describe in an increasingly frustrated and imploring tone. The couple are in a terrible situation that is forcing them towards the reluctant inevitability of divorce. Simia wants to take her daughter abroad, the reasons are not fully explained, but it is implied that she wants her to have a full education and more opportunities that will be denied to her in a Muslim country. Her husband feels obliged to stay so that he can care for his elderly father who is suffering from some kind of dementia. It is a sense of duty. Simia challenges him: “Does he even know that you are his son?” Nader replies, “I know he’s my father.”
It is an excruciatingly balanced dilemma at the foundation of the drama upon which Farhadi begins to build further ethical complexity. Nadar begins to make arrangements to look after his father while he is at work. The couple have a relatively affluent, middle class apartment; when Simia moves out, she recommends Razeih, a young, devout woman who has to commute, with her young daughter, from the poor part of the city, to do the work, unknown to her tempestuous husband. She is pregnant so looking after the old man is challenging, he soils himself, and so she consults with her Imam to understand if it is appropriate for her to touch him. The next day, Nader discovers his father fastened to the bed, to stop him roaming, which sends him into a rage, accusing Razeih of stealing money. The scene ends in an ambiguous shove.
The aftermath of the shove and the subsequent miscarriage of Razeih’s baby are played out in a series of claims and counter claims, where the perspective of the audience is torn by the different characters. There is no privileged viewpoint offered, just a sense that all the characters are simultaneously culpable, while at the same time have mitigation based on the context of their situation. Nadar forces his daughter into a terrible position of having to decide which parent she wants to be with the most.
Farhadi is exploring the social conditions of Iran and provokes ethical questions about its inherent inequalities. The long takes with a still camera recalls Haneke’s sublime CACHE (2005), it has similar thematic concerns with how families are fractured by the demands of society. When the camera is more fluid it shares Wong Kar-Wai’s skill at creating frames within frames to show the separation between the characters. However, the film is decidedly Loachian in its concern with class. The individuals are rendered impotent by their class status.
The conventional wisdom with lists is that there needs to be a passage of time to appreciate the film’s place within the canon. I don’t need another decade to pass to know that this is a triumph of world cinema.
- Review: Amour (2012) (feedmefilms.co.uk)