A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi. It won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film in 2012, and is included in Roger Ebert‘s top ten films of 2011. This film is set in modern-day Iran; Simin, the wife, wants to take her family abroad to find better opportunities for their 11-year-old daughter, but Nader is having doubts about leaving, not wanting to leave behind his senile father. The film opens with the couple in divorce court. Iran is a nation run by the rules of Islamic law, and the law says that Simin can’t do anything without the permission of her husband. So, she says, she will just divorce him. However, the law also says that their daughter cannot go anywhere without the father’s permission. Enraged, Simin leaves their home and goes to her mother. Nader then hires a pregnant woman named Razieh to take care of his father. Islamic law says that a woman cannot work in a house with only the man present, so Razieh doesn’t tell her husband. She is so religious that she has to ask if it is a sin to change an old man’s soiled underpants. And I’m going to end the summary here because you really really need to see this incredible film.
What do we know about Iran, really? What pictures and notions we have are caricatures from Western cinema and various propaganda. Subservient women and bearded men, camels and the desert and the war. And yet A Separation opens with Simin fighting Nader, and Nader feeling not power as a man in a patriarchal nation, but helplessness. I love this one scene where Nader tells his daughter to get the change back at the gas station. He watches his 11-year-old daughter arguing with the proprietor on the rear-view mirror, and he smiles to himself, as if to say, That’s my girl.
The film shows an Iran trying to live with its various rules, but sometimes, as Roger Ebert said in his review, “the law is not adequate to deal with human feelings.”