(Look On! takes occasional note of noteworthy productions.)
If there is one movie you must see this "awards" season, it has to be A Separation. It's an Iranian film – the official Iranian submission for best foreign language film for the Oscars, and a nominee for best foreign language film in the Golden Globe ceremony to be held tomorrow.
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, this film, at its core, is about how law interacts with personal life, for women and for men.
It starts with a scene between a husband and wife, facing an unseen judge; the woman is requesting a divorce. Why? Because she wants the family to immigrate so that their eleven-year-old daughter does not have to grow up in Iran. For obvious reasons, she cannot fully explain all of her reasoning to the judge. The husband feels he cannot leave his father, who is living his last days with Alzheimer's and lives the family. He does not want his wife to leave, but he cannot imagine leaving his father. When his wife protests that his father doesn't even know he is his son, he replies, "But I still know he is my father." The judge cannot resolve the conflict, and both leave the court feeling frustrated by the inability of the legal system to address this personal dilemma. And so the story unfolds from this poignant moment forward.
We revisit the chambers of the courts on more than one occasion (in fact, the film is book-ended by legal proceedings), and each time we are struck by the incapacity of courts to resolve the real disputes that arise in people's lives - the disputes that grow out of everyday interactions, misunderstandings, feelings of "victimization," gender roles, class conflict, the position of children within family constellations, the clash between religion and modernity, and on. And more so, we are struck by the legal system's inability to get at the ever elusive "truth."
And what is most astonishing is that we, the audience, have great sympathy for so many of the characters, even characters in great conflict with one another. This is not simply because the acting is breath-taking, the writing superb, and the characters well drawn, but also because each person is flawed and stumbling through the hard circumstances of life and the ways that one event or decision rebounds to many others. We also witness the ways that women take care of each other in Iranian society at the same time they suffer difficult constraints. One woman must lie to her husband that she has taken a job to help the family out because he is unemployed; another feels caught between the demands of two families.
I don't want to give too much away but I hope it comes to a theater in your area. It is truly a first class work of art and, to my mind, the best movie of the year.