It has almost become an adage that roughly 50 percent of marriages result in divorce. These break-ups are ubiquitous for a number of reasons: prematurity, immaturity, lack of genuine compatibility and just general oversight of the elements that allow marriages to last.

A Separation

At the Michigan
Sony Pictures Classics


In his fifth film, “A Separation,” Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi beautifully and compellingly complicates this almost conventional, gamble-worthy misfortune. He presents two coexisting families, each with their own set of problems, through the eyes of a not-so-steady Steadicam — capturing reality at its most raw.

The opening shot follows the gaze of a judge in a courtroom as a husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi, “About Elly”) and wife, Simin (Leila Hatami, “The Deserted Station”), plead their divorce cases. The patient camera remains focused on these two for several minutes as they bicker, never revealing the judge’s face, just his voice. Simin wishes to flee to America and start anew in the best interest of their studious daughter. Nader refuses to leave his Alzheimer’s-stricken father, who is in a vegetative state and needs care. A brilliant title slide arrives onscreen once the pair diverges in opposite directions from the courtroom. Off to a good start.

The second half of the story introduces itself in the form of the soon-to-be-divorced couple’s lower-caste, pregnant house sitter, Razieh (newcomer Sareh Bayat), and her adorable young daughter. She cleans, sweeps, takes out the garbage and takes care of Nader’s ill father, who sits motionlessly and speechlessly in his bed all day.

The fun and games halt one day when Nader returns home to find his near-dead father lying on the ground beside the bed with his hands tied to a panel. Livid, he confronts Razieh the following day, accusing her of trying to kill his father and for stealing a week’s pay from his bedroom. Shit hits the fan when Nader shoves her out of his apartment, causing her to fall. Subsequently, she accuses him of killing her unborn baby, a murder charge.

Very quickly, this film heads toward a visceral treatment of family, religion and the big, fat lie. Farhadi smoothly shifts from the disintegrating marriage of Nader and Simin, while their innocent and rational daughter suffers from it all, and the couple who miscarried trying to stay afloat financially. As events unfold into a whirlpool of high-flying emotion and clenched fists, Farhadi keeps local his most levelheaded characters: the daughters, one from each family. They serve as voices of moral reason, something that, apparently, grown adults have trouble seeing through the fogs of ego and self-interest. The youngest figures have the heftiest wisdom and poise, while the adults engage in “he said, she said” child’s play.

All these negative events may make one think Farhadi is a pessimistic filmmaker; rather, he explicates his message through honest, gritty and spellbinding performances from all his actors. Much doubt resides within the characters themselves, but audience members shouldn’t doubt relating to these characters because of the cultural gap between America and Iran, because these are real families with real issues; Iran is merely a backdrop.

It’s evident that Farhadi fancies and immerses himself within the concept of family, something so indefinable, so multifaceted. Sticking with his verisimilitude approach, he ensures that each character is equally imperfect, which makes “rooting” for one side over the other quite onerous.

Leaving the theater, one feels that Farhadi had a supernatural grip on his treatment of the woes in family life. A tight, no-frills script allows the cast to shine throughout. Unless subtitle reading makes you purple in the face, sprint to the box office for this Iranian goodness.

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