On Feb. 26, Asghar Farhadi graciously accepted the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film for his movie Nader and Simin, A Separation. Not only was this a personal victory for Farhadi, but it also marked the first time a director from Iran collected the prize.
A Separation is a multilayered and gripping family drama that also paints a fascinating portrait of Iranian life. The film centers on Nader and Simin (Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami), a husband and wife that are filing for divorce. They aren’t separating out of animosity or a lack of love, which makes their situation all the more devastating and intriguing.
Simin wants to leave Iran to provide better opportunities for their daughter while Nader refuses to go because he wants to stay with his sick father. He has Alzheimer’s disease and can’t be left alone. Neither Nader nor Simin have poor intentions; both believe they are doing what is ultimately for the best.
Simin moves in with her parents as the divorce and custody issues are being settled. With Simin gone, Nader decides to hire a housekeeper to look after his father while he is at work. He employs Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a hard worker who commutes a long distance to Nader’s house. She brings her young daughter, who often gets in the way instead of helping. Razieh is a devout Muslim and often poses moral questions, even seeking to make sure that her actions as a housekeeper and caregiver do not conflict with her religion.
The film then escalates into a legal drama between Nader and Razieh. Simin and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), as well as Razieh’s husband Houjat (Shahab Hosseini), are ultimately dragged into the case. A Separation is such an effective film because both sides are sympathetic. There are no villains or heroes, simply human beings attempting to trudge through life when presented with morally complex situations.
One of the strongest characteristics of the film is the magnificent acting. Bayat in particular is luminous. The naturalistic style of acting renders the whole film excruciatingly real, and the drama that much more potent.
Quite simply, A Separation is a masterpiece. It manages to investigate the complexities of Iranian culture while simultaneously remaining universal. Yes, the dialogue may be in Persian, the setting in Tehran and the characters are swearing on the Qur’an rather than the Bible, but the emotional journeys can be felt and understood by everyone, everywhere.
During Farhadi’s acceptance speech at the Oscars, he made sure to address not only the people who helped make his film, but also the people of his country. During a time when tensions are high among the governments and politicians of Iran and the United States, Farhadi and A Separation’s victory represented more than just a filmmaker winning an award.
Farhadi concluded his speech by saying, “I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”