A SEPARATION (PG-13) Courtroom dramas and police procedurals have been staples of prime-time television and movies for decades. There’s something irresistibly entertaining about these two popular subgenres, despite their different rules, tropes and dramatic requirements. What strongly links them, however, is that each one typically employs protagonists searching for the truth behind the crime, behind the mystery that inaugurated the plot in the first place. It seems like a rather superficial thing to point out, but as any savvy connoisseur of these kinds of stories will tell you, finding out the truth can be an elusive quest, if not an outright impossible one. That inability to decipher the truth has come to be known as the Rashomon effect, named after the classic Akira Kurosawa film, and deals with how people can experience or witness the same event yet have radically different, subjective perceptions of that event when recalling it. In other words, truth/reality can be slippery depending on who’s telling the tale.
Iranian director/writer Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning A Separation deals with a middle-class married couple, Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), who’ve reached the breaking point in their 14-year-long relationship when Simin decides to leave the country. Her husband, Nader, does not want to leave because his ailing father suffers from Alzheimer’s and must be taken care of. Simin moves in with her parents and leaves her husband and 11-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), at home. Nader hires a devoutly religious woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to care for his father. But after a serious incident occurs between Razieh and Nader’s father one day while Nader is at work, the lives of everyone involved are thrust into a storm of serious criminal allegations and cultural/religious protocol.
A Separation begins as a riveting, naturalistic domestic story and then deftly segues into an almost-unbearably suspenseful dramatic thriller as mesmerizing as any crime movie, without ever becoming one or wallowing in melodrama. Farhadi’s focus is always on realism, character and the thorough explication of how truth can become distorted. While mainstream Hollywood directors seem to have completely abandoned naturalism as a stylistic lens to examine the world, filmmakers like Farhadi thankfully still see the profound validity of it. This is a universal tale of great emotional depth, and one that will haunt you in its closing moments. There’s not a wrong move in it.
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