As we move further and further into 2012, it dawned on me that one of the requirements of having a movie blog is that one should probably opine as to one’s personal film of the year. For most of 2011, that film was Tree of Life for me. That is until I saw A Separation, a movie that came out just before the end of the year.
It’s hard to know where to begin with A Separation, the winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year (out of Iran). Part of that is because there are simply so many things going on in the movie and part of it is because the director, Asghar Farhadi, is so brilliant in the way he presents so many themes without judgment, simply allowing each person in the audience to interpret and judge for themselves. Suffice it to say, though, that rarely will you see a movie that so successfully presents the inner struggles and conflicts of a society (Iran) to the outside world, while at the same time presenting so many universal themes that most any person anywhere will be thinking about long after leaving the theater.
The film takes place in Iran, and the examination of the role and plight of women in Iran’s society and the overriding battle between the religious and the secular in Iranians’ lives are at the heart of the film. You get an absolute presentation of how things are in these regards in Iran, and how they are different from how they are over here. The story revolves around two simultaneous plots, one involving the pending separation of a husband and wife and how that affects their daughter, and the other involving a possible crime that the husband may or may not have committed. And while there is certainly a level of suspense involved as the story unfolds, this is not typical movie fare where situations are exaggerated for dramatic effect. Here the drama comes from the sheer humanness of the characters, who are each involved not only in circumstances that aren’t completely of their control, but react to these circumstances in completely human, individual ways.
One of the things that I say a lot to my wife and friends in reacting to different stories or things we hear in the news, etc, is that “People are complicated. “ By that I think I mean that everybody has a huge mishmash inside them of experiences, background, belief, etc that makes them them. She says I’m always giving people the benefit of the doubt. She’s right, and it’s mainly because I usually feel like there is almost always more to a particular story than we think we know. Having said that, she and I have decided that this movie may have been made specifically for me.
The movie is about the “separation” of perceptions between men and women, religious and secular, husband and wife, daughter and parents, educated and non-educated, authority and citizenry, young and old, law and life, among many, many other things. The reactions of every single character in the movie and the way they see things are at the core of what makes this one of the most perceptive movies about simply being a person in a long while. Each character has his or her reasons, based on circumstance, belief system, situation, gender, background, social standing, relationship and experience, among many other factors, for doing what they do. Nothing that any of these characters do is judged by director Farhadi. There is a continual examination of how the same thing can be viewed by different people in so many different ways, and even why people may shade the truth or even outright lie to either rationalize their behavior or to try to do what they sincerely think is the right thing. The beauty of all this is how the movie points out not so much how self-righteous we are in our own views, but simply how our own experiences can convince us that we are simply right. You leave the theater realizing that in day to day lives, people simply do what they do. Rarely do we think about the fact that people’s reasons for doing things aren’t always excuses, they just are what they know. Not 100% right, not 100% wrong, not purely good or purely evil, just usually the best they can do with the hand they are dealt.
There’s really no way around the fact that this is a Heavy Movie, but the best kind. While all this larger human meaning is going on, there are the two simultaneous plots that keep chugging along. The movie is Hitchcockian, not in a purely entertainment sense, but certainly in terms of using the themes of mistaken belief, misunderstanding and shades of perspectives in order to create varying levels of suspense. So, while it does explore lots of themes and is therefore a fairly long film, it will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what might happen as it keeps you thinking. And while the movie explores a ton of universals, it also has lots of side plots that are sure to touch people on a very individual level. My wife and I couldn’t stop talking about the movie overall, but there were also some moments for each of us where our own life experiences had us saying, “Wow, I could really relate to that.” Those moments are everywhere and will be different for everyone.
I really could go on and on about this movie, and part of me feels like I should reveal more of the plot in order to more highly recommend you seeing it. I will say that this isn’t necessarily the kind of film you want to rent for a Saturday afternoon while you’re napping on the couch. It definitely is a movie that will require your full attention, and is absolutely an adult, thinking person’s film. But I promise, if you give it a shot and the attention it deserves, it will have you thinking not only about yourself, but more importantly other people and their perspectives, in a whole new light. It is well, well worth one and even multiple viewings, and will stick with you for a long time. Destined to be remembered as a classic.