An astonishing Iranian import unabashedly tells of marital disintegration as it expertly examines religious and cultural values, as well as taboos, dramatically percolating with raw complexity.
A Separation (fully subtitled) stars Peyman Moaadi, Leila Hatami, and Sarina Farhadi, and on the surface has some narrative similarity to recent (marketing-challenged) films like A Better Life and Revolutionary Road.
Secular-minded, well-off Nader (Moaddi) and wife Simin (Hatami) have a disagreement about their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Farhadi) studying for her exams that has Simin filing for divorce and moving in with her mother. So, Nader retains Razeh (Sareh Bayat), a steadfast, meek Muslim with a four-year-old daughter as a caregiver. It includes an onerous task of handling disoriented, Alzheimer's afflicted father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) though Termeh has opted to be with her father and help out with Razeh.
An audacious immediacy is brought to the forefront by director Asghar Farhadi that goes to the core of human nature, where divisiveness in behavior and attitude often rear itself in startling ways. A spareness makes the volatility, including compassionate strokes, a striking emotional projection throughout without any maudlin or musical cues.
Razeh reaches out to an Islamic hotline and keeps up with her duties (for a while anyway). Then, the title begins to gradually earn its moniker, with some drastic turns as an angry, out-of-sorts, suspicious Nader violently confronts the woman who happens to be with child. And, Razeh's idle, irate husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) escalates matters, putting Nader's life to the test.
What should excel ideally in upscale art-houses works immeasurably from a heated, tangled quadrangle that appears to tap into the template of seminal cinema like Rashamon within what may be an infected, skewed legal infrastructure. Still, Farhadi heightens the human aspect of the story that wouldn't work if it weren't for his ability to get the most out of his actors dedicated to his genuine, unflinching approach. It connects to the way life is affected by detachment and self-centeredness, and it's hard not to be persuaded by what Moaddi and Hatami invest in their roles, as the accused, abandoned Nader and seemingly sensible Simin (at times clamorously) exude disparate articulate determinism. More of a cultural angle comes through Razieh and Hodjat, as Bayat and Hosseini espouse a more perfidious side to well-wrought, devote figures.
How A Separation ultimately reaches its conclusion may not come as much of a surprise to some, but there is a little trickery amidst this astute filmmaking, complemented by crisp editing and lensing that makes all the insidious, intimate realism all the more difficult not to simmer in the heart and mind long afterwards.