Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Separation.

Simin and Nadar discuss the pending divorce.

I’m not sure what it will mean to the future of the Iranian film industry when in December 2011 Iran’s Council of Public Culture announced that they made the country’s largest organisation for filmmakers illegal and arrested six of Iran’s documentary filmmakers because of ‘collaboration with the BBC’. One of the most memorable Iranian films I’ve seen and one I would certainly recommend is the award winning Its Winter (2006). This deeply moving piece of cinema told the story of a man who leaves his wife and daughter in Tehran to search for work abroad. Months pass and the family hear no word from him. Meanwhile a stranger arrives in town also in search of work, whose eye is taken by the beautiful young wife who it appears no longer has a husband. Made with non-actors and described by its director Rafi Pitt as neo-realism the film remains with you for a long time. Pitt’s latest film The Hunter (2010) is not as good, although in a political sense it’s a meaningful film with a background narrative of political rhetoric and implied governmental pressure on the Iranian citizens, but as pure entertainment it’s sadly lacking. Another Iranian director I’m familiar with is Abbas Kiarostami who worked with our own Ken Loach and Italian director Ermanno Olmi on Tickets (2005) originally intended to be made as a single feature film. It was Kiarostami who suggested the idea of three separate stories and invited Olmi and Ken Loach to take part in this project. Total freedom was given to each director except for two rules: each of the sequences should be in some way connected and all three stories must take place on a train.  Kiarostami went on to direct Certified Copy (2009) an observational snapshot of human behaviour set in Tuscany, not the most absorbing film but it did win Juliette Binoche a Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Simin has no idea which way to turn?
None of these films could possible have prepared me for A Separation (2011). May I say from the outset that the universal acclaim that it has received is so well deserved, unlike some over hyped BAFTA and Academy Award nominations?  When this film opens we find a middle class couple, married for fourteen years, sitting staring at the camera discussing with the unseen official they’re pending divorce. Simin (Leila Hatami), who has been granted the legal right, wants to take their eleven year old daughter Termeh (played by the directors real life daughter Sarina Farhadi) out of Iran to bring her up in another county where laws involving women are not are not as harsh but cannot without her husbands permission. Although she wants him to accompany them Nader (Peyman Moaadi) refuses telling the official that he has stay in the country to look after his elderly father who has a debilitating type Alzheimer’s. Hence a divorce request that nether of them really wants. This first scene not only reveals the nature of the film and eventually its complexities but the scene as filmed puts us, the audience, in a judgmental position and this perspective is maintained through out the film.  

Nadar father requires constant care.

For the present Termeh lives in the Tehran apartment with her father and her grandfather, who is in need of constant care. Class and religion enter the equation when Nader employs a religiously devout lower class housekeeper, Razieh, to look after his elderly father when he is out to work. Problems arise when the new carer finds out that the old man wets himself on a regular basis and she has to get permission from her imam to change his clothes and wash him. One day Nadar returns from work early to finds his incontinent father lying on the floor, still tied to the bed, clearly very stressed and his carer no where to be seen. On her return the angry Nadar looses his temper with the women, who it turns out is pregnant, and quite literally ejects her from the apartment. Shortly after this incident she looses her unborn child.

Problems arise for everyone when Razieh excepts employment.

Asghar Farhadi is a forty-year-old Iranian screenwriter and film director who has previously won awards for his body of work including Fireworks Wednesday (2008) a portrait of three marriages set against the backdrop of the Persian New Year and About Elly (2009) about middle class relationships in modern day Iran. Asghar made his first 8mm short when he was 12 years old, making five more shorts before he went to university to study theatre something he became devoted to. It was at this stage that he started writing plays as well as directing theatre productions. When his radio plays became successful he was approached to write and direct for television which in turn led to a screenplay and he has remained in the world of cinema ever since. Theatre training and background has given his cinematic work a sense of drama, which can be seen quite clearly in A Separation mainly in the way he directs and handles his actors. The subject matter in these latter films involve Iran’s urban middle class, they’re day-to-day life and their somewhat complex problems. His filmic signature is to leave space between the lines, with no scene over written, so that the audience does not get to see everything, leaving them, and Iran’s censors, to use their own imagination. This intelligent filmmaker has to be very careful what he says and shows in his work. Also to avoid censorship problems Asghar Farhadi, unlike the best British filmmakers, does not implant a message in his work he raises questions only.

The Director.

Amongst its many plaudits his latest movie won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival along with group acting awards for both the male and female cast that again is well deserved. There are strong and well-written roles given to both the young children involved. This emotional domestic drama full of tension and pride gives us, as outsiders, an incite into the Iranian legal system and the Muslim faith. The film plays very much like a documentary and your privy to real life events all helped by the superb camera work that avoids being over intrusive but at the same time highlighting small significant details. I would deem it a criminal offence if you don’t watch this marvellous film and I for one hope to sample other work by Asghar Farhadi.

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