The Search for Common Ground: A Separation (2011)

A SEPARATION, (aka NADER AND SIMIN, aka JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN), from left: Leila Hatami, Peyman Mo

When the U.S. government decided to abruptly impose a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen) last week it caused pandemonium in international airports across the country. Travelers were removed from planes and denied passage while others were handcuffed, interrogated without legal representation and isolated from family and friends. Massive protests erupted and flights faced delays as the public tried to make sense of the situation.

Amid the chaos, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (About Elly [2009], A Separation [2011], The Past [2013]) expressed concern that he would not be allowed to enter the country to attend the upcoming Academy Awards in Los Angeles where his latest film, The Salesman (2016), is an Oscar contender for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. When it became clear that his safe passage could not be guaranteed, Farhadi announced he wouldn’t be attending the award’s ceremony citing that officials were responding to his questions with “ifs and buts, which are in no way acceptable to me, even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”

Farhadi might have received a waiver if he fought the ban but he decided to peacefully protest the situation adding, “For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hard-liners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.”

The director has received support from many sources in and outside of Hollywood including the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, which released the following statement:

“The Academy celebrates achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic, or religious differences. As supporters of filmmakers—and the human rights of all people—around the globe, we find it extremely troubling that Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning film from Iran A Separation, along with the cast and crew of this year’s Oscar-nominated film The Salesman, could be barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.”

Coincidentally, A Separation (2011) is currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of the Cinema Passport: Iran theme through July 28, 2017. Made with a modest budget of $500,000 and shot in just a few short months, Farhadi’s film earned praise from critics around the world and netted an estimated $24 million at the box office. It also has the distinction of being the first Iranian production to win an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. This is no small feat in a country where filmmakers face punishable censorship and directors such as Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon [1995], This is Not a Film [2011], Taxi [2015]) have been jailed for making movies that did not adhere to government standards.

A SEPARATION, (aka NADER AND SIMIN, aka JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN), from left: Peyman Mooadi, Sarina F

At the center of A Separation is Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), a married middle-class couple in crisis. They have a daughter (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s real-life daughter) that they both adore but Simin wants to move abroad to increase her and her child’s opportunities while Nader insists on staying in Iran to look after his ailing father (Ali-Asghar Shahbaz). When the court refuses to grant the couple a divorce, they separate and Simin leaves the family home. Afterward Nader hires a devoutly religious woman named Reziah (Sareh Bayat) to help care for his father and daughter. Reziah is pregnant with her second child and ill-prepared for the task of senior care leading to a terrible domestic squabble when she neglects and mistreats Nader’s father. In the ruckus that follows, Nader aggressively shoves Reziah out of his apartment causing her to miscarriage. Later he finds himself in court facing murder charges for killing Reziah’s unborn baby while his family struggles to maintain his innocence. However, everything is not as it seems in this atypical drama and as the film progresses it discards its Kramer vs. Kramer (1980) origins and transforms into a Rashomon (1950) inspired mystery that asks the audience to reconsider the nature of truth and justice.

Asghar Farhadi’s film defies easy categorization permitting viewers to interpret it in several ways. It’s a sensitive family drama, an examination of the class division in Iran, a critique of gender bias and an engrossing courtroom mystery all rolled into one. But most of all A Separation is a very human story that opens a window into a culture and society often closed to westerners. By way of the director’s steady camera and carefully crafted script, we come to care deeply about these characters and their predicament even though their religious beliefs and social structure may seem alien to us. There are no good people or bad people in Farhadi’s film, only people with individual quirks and faults, each of them wanting the best for themselves and their loved ones while the complicated world we live in persists on throwing curve balls in their direction.

A SEPARATION, (aka NADER AND SIMIN, aka JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN), from left: Peyman Mooadi, Leila Ha

A Separation was released after the Arab Spring protests and amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. When the film was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012 millions of Iranians tuned into watch the awards ceremony along with millions of Americans but in Iran, the Academy Awards is not broadcast live. The Iranian government regularly censors and controls what people watch so many Iranians risked heavy fines and penalties by using illegal satellite dishes to see Asghar Farhadi receive his Oscar. The director, no doubt aware of the precarious position he was in, used the opportunity to become a beacon of peace between nations by stating:

“At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy. They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics. I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment. Thank you so much.”

Farhadi’s acceptance speech emphasized the power of cinema to illuminate and unite people despite their religious and political differences. It advocates something I believe deeply, that great art, no matter where it comes from or who produces it, can be a bridge that brings cultures together. After it aired millions of Iranians at home and abroad embraced his message. His speech was translated into multiple languages and shared around the world on social media sites. Although the title of Farhadi’s film suggests discord, at the heart of A Separation is the desire to unify a couple, a people and a society that is divided. Hopefully he will be able to share his uplifting message with Americans once again because the world is in dire need of his voice and vision.

Kimberly Lindbergs

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4 Responses The Search for Common Ground: A Separation (2011)
Posted By Kathy Shaidle : February 2, 2017 2:07 pm

Oh brother. I’ve been inconveniced at airports for 15 years thanks to Muslim immigrations. Now Muslim immigrants can be inconvienced at the airport for 90 days.

Here’s Reuters:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-refugees-exclusive-idUSKBN15E2U9

“the U.S. government has granted waivers to let 872 refugees into the country this week. (…)

“The internal DHS document said that between late Friday and early Monday 348 visa holders were prevented from boarding U.S.-bound flights. In addition, more than 200 people landed in the United States but were denied entry, the document showed. More than 735 people were pulled aside for questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in airports, including 394 legal permanent U.S. residents holding green cards, over the same time period.”

That’s out of almost 100,000 people. No one killed. No one in police custody. No one deported.

Now, here’s a real “ban”:

http://www.dailywire.com/news/13066/heres-list-all-muslim-countries-ban-jews-michael-qazvini

Posted By Mary Paisley : February 2, 2017 6:02 pm

I am ashamed of my government. Mr. Farhadi should be able to come here and it’s disgraceful to the United States and the ideals it stands for that he was forced to cancel his trip.

Posted By Renee Leask : February 2, 2017 7:53 pm

Descriptions of this movie did not prepare me for my own reaction to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Only one of the reasons is the light it sheds on Iranian culture and the utterly human way all the characters deal with it. The world shrinks every day, whether we want it to or not, and it’s good to know that art can unite us.

Posted By swac44 : February 6, 2017 10:40 am

Powerful film, I reviewed it at the time it came out, and it still lingers strongly in my memory. I regret that I haven’t had the chance to see The Salesman, hopefully the spotlight shed on Farhadi’s situation will at least increase demand for his latest work.

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