NYFF Movie Review: ‘A Separation’

By Joe Bendel Created: October 1, 2011 Last Updated: October 3, 2011
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Leila Hatami as Simin and Peyman Moadi as Nader in the Iranian film 'A Separation.' (Habib Madjidi/Sony Pictures Classics)

Leila Hatami as Simin and Peyman Moadi as Nader in the Iranian film 'A Separation.' (Habib Madjidi/Sony Pictures Classics)

As a well-educated, comparatively liberal Iranian woman, Simin wants to live abroad, not so much for herself but for her daughter Termeh. Unfortunately, her travel visa will soon expire and her husband, Nader, refuses to leave. .

It causes what Westerners would call irreconcilable differences for the couple. It also sets in motion a tragic chain of events that will jeopardize their way of life in Asghar Farhadi’s Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear winner, A Separation.

Nader is not exactly a fundamentalist either, but he is stubborn. He also must care for his Alzheimer’s disease-stricken father, though Simin considers this a questionable excuse. Since divorce is not an easy no-fault proposition in Iran, she moves back in with her parents as their case drags on.

Requiring help with his father, Nader hires Razieh as an in-house aide. She is poor, uneducated, extremely religious, and married to the abusive Houjat.

She only accepts the position in place of Houjat when the deadbeat is thrown in jail for his debts. Yet, as soon as she appears to settle into the routine of the household, a moment of chaos turns their world upside down. Suddenly, Nader is on trial for causing the death of Razieh’s unborn child while the thuggish Houjat harasses his family.

Granted, the film’s portrayal of Iranian jurisprudence does not inspire a lot of confidence, but it is almost the least of Nader’s problems. Instead, he becomes his worst enemy, responding to Razieh and Houjat in the worst possible way at every juncture. Yet explaining his decisions to his acutely sensitive daughter is often his greatest challenge.

Much like Farhadi’s Tribeca award-winning About Elly, A Separation vividly depicts how one tragic mistake compounds over and over again. It is an intense film, almost to the brink of exhaustion.

Like many of the persecuted filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s films, it shines a searing spotlight on the divisions of Iranian society, largely cleaving along professional and secular-as-they-dare versus poor and fundamentalist lines. Ostensibly, Nader and Simin should have the upper hand, but this is Iran.

Iranian Golden Bear Winner Featured at NYFF

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi
Running time: 123 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Persian with English subtitles

A Separation is also smart and scrupulously realistic on the micro level as well. The relationship dynamic between Simin and Nader is particularly insightful, rendered with great sensitivity by leads Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi.

We clearly understand that this is a couple with a lot of history together who do not hate each other. They are unable to make it work, but they cannot stop trying. Likewise, teenaged Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter) gives a remarkably finely calibrated performance as the insecure Termeh.

A Separation and About Elly before it are like Iranian Cassavetes films, uncomfortably intimate and direct but undeniably visceral in their impact. Their place within the contemporary Iranian cinema establishment is a little trickier to pin down.

Regardless, A Separation is an unusually powerful film. Highly recommended, it is easily one of the best of the festival. It screens this Saturday and Sunday (10/1 and 10/2) at Alice Tully Hall as a Main Slate selection of the 2011 New York Film Festival.

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and jazz and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit

Rating: 4.5 / 5


Selected Topics from The Epoch Times

Alla Lavrynenko