The film begins with a striking ‘to camera’ scene involving separated husband and wife Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), as they plead with a local judge over custody of their yet-unseen daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Simin has been trying to persuade her husband to give her a divorce so she can leave the country (which he reluctantly agrees to), but Nader has no intention of losing Termeh, such is the strength of their father-daughter bond.
One of the reasons Nader is so keen to hang onto his daughter is so she can help her father look after her near-catatonic grandfather (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who suffers from severe Alzheimer’s. His condition soon presents a real dilemma for Nader, as the carer he hires to look after his father during the day (the pregnant Razieh, played stoically by Sareh Bayat) abuses her position, tying him to the bed whilst she leaves the house to run an errand with her young daughter.
On returning to find his father collapsed and near-death, a physical confrontation occurs between Nader and the returning Razieh, which ultimately results in Nader being accused of causing his former employee to miscarry her unborn child. What follows is an intricate web of accusations and counter-accusations, played out against the somewhat chaotic Iranian justice system.
Comparable to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s superb Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), A Separation is an expertly-crafted meditation on crime and punishment in Islamic society, exploring both the religious and corporal implications of the characters’ actions and counter-actions. It is left completely up to the viewer to make up their own opinions as to who is right and who is wrong (as if such adjudication is ever that simple), and one constantly feels that they are re-aligning their moral compass with each new revelation.
Farhadi’s A Separation was a huge success at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, picking up the Golden Bear and also Silver Bear prizes for its four central performers Moaadi, Hatami, Bayat and Shahab Hosseini (who plays Razieh unstable husband Hodjat), and few would be brave enough to bet against it triumphing in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2012 Academey Awards. Put simply, A Separation is a supremely well-acted and well-directed drama that treats its audience as intelligent, active participants rather than passive subjects.