While the location of Iran may seem exotic to many, the subject matter in Asghar Farhadi’s hyper-realistic drama A Separation is relatable to everyone. This Oscar-winning film doesn’t follow the pattern of your typical controversial Iranian film that is out to attack the Iranian system. We do get a peek into the Iranian culture and their way of life, but that’s just decoration. The meat of the story is a slice-of-life drama that realistically deals with the complexities of human nature which could take place anywhere in the world.
As the film opens up with Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), an attractive couple arguing their reasons for divorce in front of a judge, the camera’s perspective indicates that the viewer is going to be judging this couple and more characters throughout the whole film. Simin wants her husband Nader and their 11-year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter) to leave Iran with her. Simin wants to leave Iran to guarantee a better life for their teenage daughter while Nader feels they must stay in Iran to care for his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Since the couple cannot compromise, the divorce is denied which starts the first of many separations between characters in this film. Due to the first complicated scenario, Nader hires Razieh, a pregnant and religious caretaker, to watch his father during the day as he goes to work. Razieh has issues too – she’s got a hot-tempered, violent, ex-con husband and she has to take her own young daughter with her to her caretaking job. She turns out to be an unreliable caregiver, especially since her religious beliefs only seem to make her job more difficult. In one scene, Nader’s father soils himself and must be changed, so Razieh is faced with the dilemma if it’s a sin or not to change another man’s underwear. Another time, Nader comes home to find his father on the floor, tied to the bed, nearly dead. Nader accuses her of neglecting his father, as well as thievery. Their argument turns into a physical confrontation, and eventually, the matter is presented before a judge at the local police station.
With a screenplay and dialogue that would put most typical melodramatic soap operas to shame, A Separation deals not only with family issues, but also with the separation of class and religion and the inequality between men and women in Iran. Since Director Farhadi is a very smart man and crafty filmmaker, he knew how to subtly show the treatment of Iranian women in his film without facing censorship from the government. The film doesn’t make it obvious to why Simin wants to leave Iran with her daughter, but the movie makes it clear that her opportunities are slim in Iran, which is emphasized in the shadow of Razieh’s challenging working-class life depicted in the film.
The director has written A Separation in a way that makes every character real. No one is really good. No one is really bad. Everyone has positive and negative traits. And everyone has realistic dilemmas. When we watch a film, we judge characters early on to decide who we should side with. In A Separation, the director has masterfully crafted all of his characters to be grey (even including the children), as it should be when describing a real person. All the conflicts in this film are connected in a realistic and complex way which makes this film an absolute thrill from beginning to end!
When A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign film during the Academy Awards, I instantly thought, “now THAT should guarantee a Blu-ray release.” Sony did not disappoint. The 1080p 1.85:1 video transfer is everything that I expected. Over the years, I’ve seen many Iranian films that make it to American video stores on DVD. The video quality usually ranged from crummy to barely watchable. With that in mind, I was overjoyed to see an Iranian film finally released on Blu-ray. Since it may be a pain in the butt for Americans to travel to Tehran due to the US and Iranian governments having issues with each other, the only way to enjoy the beautiful-looking streets of Iran were watching them in the movies. With this Blu-ray, we now get to see some Iranian streets and places in high definition! Knowing the history of Iranian films on video, this isn’t a demo-worthy Blu-ray, but with the film’s budget and shooting restrictions in mind, the video looks excellent. This naturally lit film has crisp clarity all throughout. Any softness that may appear only adds to the experience of the film’s realism. I don’t think this film would even benefit from having a three-dimensional, mega-bright video usually found on a Blu-ray of a Michael Bay film.
The Persian/Farsi DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 is perfect for this type of dialogue-driven film. Even as A Separation lacks a consistent presence of a musical score or other typical movie noises, the audio mix is actually quite effective. Subtle front-speaker noises can be just as powerful as loud explosive surround sound noises. While the sounds of the street and a loud police station were more active, I was more impressed with the quiet scenes in the apartments. As A Separation showcases realism, the sound in this film also exhibits realism. Subtle apartment sounds, noises from other rooms or from outside, a character’s movement, breathing or cries – all add up to a very impressive delicate mix. There were no cases when the sound felt manufactured in a sound studio. The natural and realistic sounds will pull one deeper into this intimate drama.
French DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0, as well as English and French subtitles are also included.
The commentary and Q&A with director Asghar Farhadi are a learning experience. He provides a plentiful amount of information about the story, the filming process, and about Iran in a very entertaining and witty way. This is the type of movie that does not need to have tons of extras packed onto the Blu-ray. The ones given here are generous enough.
– Commentary with Asghar Farhadi
– An Evening with Asghar Farhadi (30 Min.)
– Birth of a Director behind-the-scenes featurette (8 Min.)
A Separation is a heavy film that deals with family members juggling multiple responsibilities and dilemmas. Don’t be discouraged by the drama – this film is highly entertaining and well worth watching for its original screenplay, outstanding acting, and genuine realism that is rarely presented in movies nowadays. Asghar Farhadi’s film certainly deserved the Oscar for Best Foreign Film!
Go check out this thrilling movie on Blu-ray, and don’t forget to keep a box of tissues close by!