In the age we live in, regional movies with limited international appeal forges ahead if, despite the contemporary barriers, it captures that basic tenet of ‘human experience’, which is universal and knows no boundaries. Such is the nature of the art, that despite our inability to imagine ourselves in their shoes, despite our disconnect with the lives they lead and despite our ignorance of the subtle vagaries that dominate the individual’s lives, their suffering and their emotions filter through the geography, and into our subconsciousness. A Separation is one such cinematic experience, universal in its appeal and regional in its setting.
The movie is about the suffering of a family with a schizophrenic parent, about a separation of two lives intertwined for the past fourteen years till frustration takes its toll, about the love for the eleven year old girl that both parents evidently possess, about a careless mistake, about anger and the memory lapse thereon, about the disconnect between the Iranian middle-class and the lower-class, the complexity of the law, the world-from-the-eyes-of the child, the duality of one’s beliefs and the ambiguity of the principles of a devout and finally about the mysteriousness of the truth. That one truth, which during most of the second half of the movie, overtakes everything else. In a way, the movie reminds you of ‘Rashomon’ with multiple accounts of the one unfortunate incident, multiple conclusions and ofcourse multiple principles. All binded together through the strong ropes of suffering.
Three characters which stand out is the father (Nader), the eleven year old daughter (Termeh) and the little girl (Somayeh). The father, because he is suffering and knows not how to express it, the daughter because she suffers and knows the solution, the little girl because she suffers while she can only understand specific things which limits her ability to comprehend the angst of people around her. Shahab Hosseini as ‘Hodjat‘ is stellar in his portrayal of the hot-tempered, lower-class, debt-ridden father while Sareh Bayat as ‘Razieh‘ is impactful as the devout with a twisted sense of morality- one that eats her up from inside due to its ambiguity.
The director Asghar Farhadi is on a quest. His quest is to understand the difference between truth and reality. Are they both the same or are they limited by the body they inhabit? The various moral tangles reflect his chase for what we should accept as truth- is it the facts that stare at us along those winding roads or are they the beliefs we entrust to people we respect and look upto. Morality and truth, their tussle with the lives of two intertwined families. Suffering and choices, their tug within each of the families and the ambiguity within each. The open-ended climax is for the readers to fill in- for the eleven year old is unable to comprehend the question, just as the little girl is unable to comprehend the situation.
‘A Separation’ is one of those movies you will lovingly search through your trunks and ‘archived’ scroll-throughs’ a decade down the line only to be struck by the ambiguous moral tangles all over again. It is one of those masterpieces which will be watched for a long time to come.