Review: Why you should see A Separation

By Bryan Sih, Muse Staff Writer

Already considered a landmark for cinema, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s stark and morally complex drama, A Seperation, took the Berlin International Film Festival by storm. It will also probably take home the Academy Award for “Best Foreign Film.” Critics are raving and rottentomatoes.com gave the film a 99 percent “fresh” rating, making it the top-rated film of the year.

The praise is well deserved. A Separation is storytelling at its finest: developed characters, plot twists, powerful conflicts and an unsettling conclusion.

The film opens with Simin, the wife of Nader, in need of a divorce so she can take her daughter, Termeh, out of the country. When Simin moves out of the house, Nader hires a maid, who only causes grief for the family when she accuses Nader of killing her unborn child. The film begins to work on two levels: as a family drama and as a crime drama. Truth, blame, loyalty and justice are all brought into question.

The execution of such a complex, emotionally weighty story could easily send the film into the realm of melodrama. However, Farhadi has complete control over his craft. The acting is top-notch. Even the young actresses capture powerful moments with genuine emotional charge. The camera work commits to realism, often shaky and intrusive, immersing the viewer into the life and environment of the film. In these regards, the film thrives.

What many critics have failed to note is the film’s intelligent use of sound. Viewers familiar with Hollywood movies are instantly struck by the lack of music and the excessive amount of silence. The sound of A Separation helps distinguish it from being a melodrama. At tense moments, Farhadi does not indulge himself with complimentary music to evoke mood. He relies on the performance and leaves the audience engaged with the film’s reality. The mood is still there, manifesting itself in the actors’ faces and the silent space between them. Music is only used at the unsettling conclusion. The sudden surge of sound is appropriate for the mood and signals a compelling end.

The sound of the door to the apartment is also used thoughtfully. The door slams are abnormally loud and violent and indeed, the door becomes the crucial motif of the film. It is where the crime supposedly occurred; it signals the exit and entrance of characters back into each other’s lives; and it divides the characters as outsiders and insiders, trapped in the house or freed. Overall, sound enhances the already-effective techniques that Farhadi employs to portray these characters and their struggles.

When the credits roll, some will groan, others will applaud. The ending leaves much to be desired, but in the best way possible. Farhadi makes a statement that simply cannot be reduced. Some critics have claimed the film to have strong political agendas. Others believe that the film’s focus is on family and life in Iran. To choose one or the other would not do the film justice. A Separation works on all levels; its examination of human motivation and its relentless effort to remain ambiguous guarantees this film’s place in cinema history.

A Separation is playing at Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge. 

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