A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for the 2011 season. I saw the movie yesterday, and it was fascinating to watch, although perhaps a bit long as the film clocks in at a whopping two and a half hours. I’d recommend Americans watch the film because it provides some insight into Iranian culture.
The set up for the events is a wife decides she wants to separate from her husband because she has applied for travel visas (it is implied to leave the country and perhaps go to the United States – it’s never made clear) but the husband changed his mind and no longer wants to go. The wife goes to live with her parents while the husband stays at home and cares for his elderly father suffering from Alzheimers and the couple’s 11 or 12 year old daughter.
Once the wife leaves, the husband hires a woman to come in and care for the father during the day while the husband is at work. The woman that comes in is pregnant, and brings along a very young girl, maybe 5 years old.
After that the storyline gets very complicated, and if I say much more I’ll spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
I will say this, there are a lot of scenes in the movie where we see how “justice” is served in Iran. There is no such thing as a court room as we understand it in the United States, and no jury either. The magistrate (not a judge) overseeing the cases does some interviews with “witnesses” or people who might make character references for those being accused of crimes, but in the end the magistrate just decides whether or not he believes the person is guilty and then assigns the punishment. The scenes in the film showing these segments always show the magistrate sitting at a desk in a small office, and the parties being accused sit in chairs in front of the desk, along with their spouses (who often say stuff and interfere during the proceedings.)
I saw the movie with a friend, and her observation was that every character in the film (including both young girls, who are called upon to make their own observations about what happened) winds up withholding information from everyone else. (The exception is the elderly father who doesn’t speak.) Ironically, the characters in the film often try to tell the truth but on the way to telling the truth, things wind up getting very convoluted. Religious belief systems are implied as at least one of the reasons this happens.
In the end, we’re left with a deep impression of how challenging life in modern Iran can be, and the entanglements of families, religious beliefs and societal norms all have a deep affect on the quality of life available.