Cinema, Art etc.

Stories of families against the backdrop of Iran


by Giampiero Sandionigi |  March 6, 2012

The night of the Oscars, 26th February, gave Teheran the chance to celebrate a victory over Israel. The Iranian film,  "A separation" won the Oscar for the best foreign film, beating four other contenders, including the Israeli Footnote. The film by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had found favour with audiences at home, but it had also been successful abroad. What is the secret of the success of this slow-moving film?


The night of the Oscars, 26th February, gave Teheran the chance to celebrate a victory over Israel. The Iranian film,  A separation won the Oscar for the best foreign film, beating four other contenders, including the Israeli Footnote, by Joseph Cedar. The State television rejoiced, announcing the news, even though in Iran the cinema is considered with suspicion by many religious circles.

The film by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had found favour with audiences at home, but it had also been successful abroad. At last year’s Berlin Film Festival, it raffled all the prizes: the Golden Bear for the best film, the Silver Bear for the best actress and for the best actor, but also special prized such as the Peace Award College and the prize awarded by the ecumenical jury. Only two days before the Oscars, A separation had won the César in France for the best foreign film.

What is the secret of the success of this slow-moving film?

The soundtrack goes unnoticed. The sets and photography are basic. The force of the film lies above all in the screenplay, in describing a slice of  life in today’s Iran, which is bigoted and secular at one and the same time, which is the backdrop to a family story with the vigour of a stateless story. Set in Teheran, it could take place anywhere.

The first frame shows a bourgeois couple sitting in front of a judge who is only a voice off screen: she wants to emigrate with her husband and teenage daughter, but he is against it because he feels obliged to look after his elderly father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. In the impossibility of settling the disagreement, the wife asks for a divorce but the magistrate dismisses the request and the film gets into the heart of the narration.

Very soon this affluent and well-educated family contrasts with, as its antagonist, the family of the caregiver engaged for the elderly patient. Oppressed by economic needs and fearfully observant of religious precepts, the woman is forced to work, in secret from an inconclusive husband. At a certain point an argument will hasten events and once again the main characters will end up in court. The judge (the audience) is called to settle a dispute which gradually becomes more and more complicated as the witnesses follow on one another.

The film portrays hesitant adults, under the astonished eyes of their daughters who soon have to grow up, possibly to end up in roles that until that time they had not understood, almost as though initiation, entering the adult world, inevitably costs the loss of innocence.

The film also naturally speaks about God; a God who is dumb and elsewhere, but who marks and guarantees social relations in this contemporary Iran.

The epilogue of the story hands on a question mark that catches the audience off guard, possibly involving them as well so that they can state their opinion.

---

A separation
writer and director: Asghar Farhadi
cast: Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh
genre: drama
production: Iran 2011
runtime: 123 min.

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