What I Saw: A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader Az Simin)
The sad truth about human beings is that we don’t really understand each other. We think we do, and we imagine that other people’s motivations are similar to our own, but usually we’re just fooling ourselves.
Typically, these misunderstandings are met with a polite smile or a roll of the eyes once the other person’s back is turned. Occasionally, however, the stakes rise and we are forced out of our avoidance and into confrontation.
Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation begins with a high stakes divorce between Nader and Simin, and then raises those stakes again and again as characters with competing motivation systems are added to the plot. Culture, religion, gender, and personality traits are brought to the surface, as each character tries desperately to do what they believe is the right thing. When they turn to the legal system to help them solve their disputes, they don’t find a resolution that makes anyone happy, but rather discover yet another competing value system with which to contend.
I am not qualified to speak to the details of life within Iran, but I did find the message to be universal, and wondered why more films don’t really explore how these themes play out in our multicultural society. Too often, mainstream films reduce our differences to caricatures, cover over them with platitudes and easy answers, or take sides according to the filmmaker’s own leanings. Farhadi’s refusal to do so allows us to sympathize with each character, and the ending finds us wondering less about the choice that a central character must make, and more about the choices that we have already made to become the people that we are, and the separations that divide us.
A Separation won the Academy Award for best foreign language film (one of the awards that I predicted correctly), and was also nominated in the original screenplay category.
Interestingly, the film’s reception and Oscar win has mirrored its central premise, with different political and cultural groups inside and outside Iran interpreting its success in ways that support their own perspectives.
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