Nader and Simin are a loving, married couple who face a difficult decision on whether to improve the life of their child by moving out of the country or to stay and look after a deteriorating parent suffering from Alzheimer’s. What begins as a simple, heartbreaking divorce story, however, evolves into a much more thought-provoking, complex narrative. The moment Nader and Simin separate, the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan, eventually pitting their modern middle-class family against a religious lower-class family. Through the courts, jails, and classrooms of Iran, A Separation quickly becomes a cross between Hitchcock’s suspense and Lumet’s social realism.
The perfectly-cast ensemble creates a world of little right and wrong, where the lines of justice and responsibilities are blurred. Through the eyes of four parents and their two children, each character offers a unique set of justifiable values that make it impossible to compromise on their collective conflict. Similar to what Roman Polanski tried to do with Carnage, Farhadi actually succeeds here in revealing flawed individuals (no matter the regional, social upbringing), whose motivations and decisions can tear apart a family, a community, a country.
Despite the 2+ hour running time with subtitles, A Separation never feels long, taking us on a roller coaster of familial emotions. By the end, we’re back to where we began — a potential, inevitable separation. Like all great works of art, A Separation can and will mean different things to different viewers. On one level, it is a heartbreaking tale of two spouses who must separate. But on another level, the spouses do represent schisms within a broken country’s political, religious, and social structure. Like the veil that covers our female leads, A Separation gives us just enough of a hint to what it is trying to say without actually saying it. What you hear is entirely up to you.