Nominated for two Academy Awards, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation is an eye-opening portrait of Iranian society
Already the winner of the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlinale, a Golden Globe and numerous other honours, A Separation, the latest from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday), is the frontrunner to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the next Academy Awards, where it’s also nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category.
"It seems that the story the film contains is one that is tangible and doesn’t seem distant to audiences in different parts of the world," says Asghar Farhadi via a translator. "And the aspects that are more local, that specifically have to do with my culture and country, are still understandable to [foreign] audiences. Maybe it’s also that the kind of viewer that the film requires and creates is not merely a passive viewer but one that needs to be involved in the film, which makes a greater connection exist."
The story of Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Maadi), a soon-to-be-divorced couple who become entangled in a legal imbroglio with another couple (played by Sareh Bayat and Shahab Hosseini), A Separation offers an eye-opening portrait of the sexual, economic and religious divisions present in Iranian society, while also raising profound questions about ethics and causality.
The film was partly inspired by Farhadi’s personal experience, notably in regards to the character of Nader’s father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. "My own grandfather had Alzheimer’s and some of the events that befall the old man are things that happened to him. Also, my relationship with my daughter [Sarina Farhadi], who actually plays the part of Termeh in the film – it’s not as though the relationship between Nader and her is the same as mine with my daughter, but it still was something that prompted me to include that relationship and develop it."
One of the most admirable things about Farhadi’s film is the absence of good guys or bad guys; we can actually understand the point of view and feelings of everyone on screen. "One of the most important things for me to maintain in all the films I’ve worked on so far is this very thing," says the 40-year-old director. "In none of my films to date have I had a negative character. I can’t provide a portrayal of a character and say, ‘This person is always good’ or ‘This person is always bad.’ I believe that an account of the character of a person is possible only within a description of the circumstances in which they are to be found."
While the adults fight, their children (each of the couple has a young daughter) have to witness the whole mess, powerless. "In my view, children are the most important judges in this film. They are constantly looking around to try and reach a conclusion, a judgement as to who is right, and their conclusion changes constantly, just like the audience’s. They are practising for entering the society of grown-ups and they’re beginning to understand how complex the world of adults is."
A Separation was produced without government support, but even when working with private financing, Iranian filmmakers still have to deal with some form of censorship. "It doesn’t matter where you are getting your financing from," admits Farhadi. "The laws are applied to all the films [in Iran]. But if you do receive your financing from government sources, then they would apply those laws even more strictly."
Farhadi is now writing and developing a screenplay for a film he plans to shoot abroad with foreign producers. "The reason is that the story that I’m doing actually takes place outside the country," he explains. "My expectation is that this film will be a continuation of my previous work; I don’t expect it to be something really different."
If it’s anywhere near as great as A Separation, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
In theatres February 24