This Iranian drama nominated for Best Foreign Language Film may be my favorite movie I’ve seen this Oscar season. The film’s success comes primarily from the story, which is so tightly woven, to the extent that every line of dialogue is essential. The actors are without exception phenomenal, and the artistic aesthetic is stunning.
A Separation tells the story of Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), a married couple living in Tehran. Simin wants to leave Iran with Nader and her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), but Nader, who is caring for his father with Alzheimer’s, refuses to leave. The couple files for divorce, which a judge refuses to grant, so they separate, and Simin moves in with her parents, and Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a caretaker to look after his father. Following a heated argument, Nader roughly pushes Razieh out of his house, which she claims led to a miscarriage. The remainder of the movie deals largely with the resulting court case, as Nader is charged with the murder of Razieh’s unborn child. Also figuring prominently into the story is Razieh’s husband Houjat (Shahab Hosseini).
What makes the story of A Separation so compelling is the fact that every character has several motivations throughout that film, and that every viewpoint is utterly understandable and relatable. Every character is both hero and anti-hero, leaving the viewer at a loss for anyone to root for or against. These are real people dealing with the real struggles of their lives, and life rarely fits into conflict/resolution or protagonist/antagonist dichotomies.
The acting, as noted above, is universally superb, making it difficult to identify standout performances. Even Sarina Farhadi (daughter of writer/director/producer Asghar Farhadi) in her first film role (at least according to IMDB) is wonderful. The artistic direction is stark and minimalist, with the aesthetic simplicity emphasizing the ever swirling emotions and desires. Every moment of the film is essential, up until the gut-wrench conclusion, which I will not spoil, but which is sublime.
This is the only nominee for Foreign Language Film that I have seen this year, so I cannot officially say that it deserves to win, but given that it is better than the seven nominees for Best Picture that I’ve seen, I’d say it has a pretty decent shot at the win.