A Separation is easily one of the best films of 2011. It is a moving and gripping tour de force, a movie so realistic itʼs easy to forget it is a work of fiction. The film begins with a couple, Nadir and Samin (Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami), sitting before a judge discussing the possibility of divorce. This conversation quickly draws us into their lives. We are intrigued and want to know more, but this is only the beginning. More people are introduced and become involved in the story. It is a movie that tugs at our emotions; wrongs take place, even though everyone is doing what they believe to be right. It is also intriguing because it introduces us to a culture very few Americans are familiar with. It gives us a glimpse into what life is like in modern day Iran.
Nader and Samin do not really want to divorce, but they cannot agree on whether or not to leave Iran. Samin wants to leave so their 11 year old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), will have a better life. Nader is not ready to leave because he is still caring for his father who has Alzheimerʼs. Eventually, Nader and Samin separate, but do not divorce. Nader is then forced to hire a caretaker for his aged father. Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim woman, who is trying to earn some money to help her family. Razieh is pregnant and does not tell her husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), that she has taken a job. All of this leads to an incident that will change the lives of these individuals forever.
A Separation is a remarkable film because it allows us to identify with people who are from a completely different culture than ours. Several wrongs are committed in the film, but there is not a villain. Everyone is trying to do what they believe is right, and because of this we can often identify with both sides. We become emotionally involved trying to find a solution for a series of terrible incidents. We are also thrown into a world and legal system vastly different from our own. It is a legal system where grace and mercy are unknown and everyone must pay for the sins they commit.
A Separation also gives us an insight into a world where there is no separation between church and state. Everyone in the film is Muslim, although some are more religious than others. It is a world where swearing on the Quran means something in the presence of others and in court. Although there may be a lack of grace, there is not a lack of morality. At one point Razieh places a phone call to get spiritual advice on whether or not it would be a sin to clean up after Naderʼs father after he soiled himself. The film does not try to persuade us one way or the other about the Muslim religion, but rather shows us what life is like for individuals trying to live a faithful life in the Muslim world.
This film is great because it has exceptional acting and directing. The story and screenplay is good enough to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, for which it is nominated, but this film is more important than all the technical things it gets right. It should be important to us as Americans and Christians. There is a lot of talk in political circles about Iran, but most Americans know very little about the people of Iran. Itʼs also not unusual to hear about Muslim extremists in the world, but what do we know about Muslim non-extremists? As Christians, we should not be filled with hate, but instead we should seek to understand what we do not know. A Separation is a wonderful film that helps us do just that.
Note: This is a foreign film with English subtitles. It is rated PG-13 but this is only because of some mature themes. It is nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Foreign Film. It has already won numerous awards from all over the world. If I would have reviewed this film before I did my top ten list, then it would have appeared at number 2 behind The Tree of Life.