Making the Grades
“It is only a small problem,” says the official (Babak Karimi) when he dismisses Nader and Simin’s (Peyman Moadi and Leila Hatami) request for a divorce. But what he deems trivial feels like an irreconcilable difference to the couple.
Simin wants to leave their home country of Iran and seek a brighter future abroad for their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). She has worked a long time to get the required permits for the move, and now that the paperwork is done Nader refuses to come with them. He argues that he cannot abandon his duty to care for his aging father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), even though the Alzheimer’s sufferer usually can’t remember who his son is. Hoping to keep her parents together, Termeh diplomatically chooses to stay with her Dad when her Mom moves out, believing her mother will never leave the country without her.
Then, almost as if the official’s judgment was prophetic, a truly serious problem eclipses the spouses’ ongoing disagreement. A domestic dispute with a housekeeper (Sareh Bayat) temporarily hired to watch over Nader’s invalid father turns into accusations of elder neglect (from him) and employer abuse (from her). And when the pregnant maid miscarries, Nader is faced with the additional charge of murdering her unborn child.
The grave situation plays out against a backdrop of unbending social, political and religious laws, that are further complicated by male pride, strict women’s roles, mental illness and dire poverty. And the stakes are high. Nader could be facing a jail sentence. The housekeeper’s unemployed husband (Shahab Hosseini) could receive a cash settlement. Anxious to make their best case, each opponent resorts to desperate measures including harassing uncooperative witnesses and compromising their moral ethics. While the mounting pressure reveals the various individual’s virtues and vices, the fact remains that their fate rests in the hands of a single government official.
This foreign language film, with English subtitles, contains only a couple of violent scenes (a fistfight and a character hitting himself), a few profanities and mild depictions of elder abuse. Yet it likely won’t appeal to a younger audience because following the intricacies of the quiet plot requires a great deal of concentration. As well, appreciation will vary depending on the viewer’s understanding of the complex cultures depicted. Still, while I know I missed much of the significance of the subtle societal portrayals, I had no trouble interpreting the tenseness of the situation or relating to how minor moments of indiscretion can lead to major problems. Those willing to invest the effort will also find human foibles have no boundaries, and that life’s dilemmas are very much the same regardless of country or birth.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about A Separation.
This movie presents an interesting moral dilemma. Which is more important: The life of an unborn child or that of an elderly, infirmed adult? How do you feel? Although neither topic is addressed in the film, how does this question tie into the debates over abortion and euthanasia?
When it comes to the decision to divorce or stay together, whom does the responsibility fall upon in this script? Is that fair? If not, who do you think should be accountable? Does this scenario play out in other cultures and countries too?
The characters in this story could be accused of using situational ethics, meaning they let the circumstances dictate what moral rules they will apply. Do you feel that there are absolute values one should use to decide his or her conduct? Are there times when it is okay to bend those guidelines? Why are the characters portrayed here tempted to manipulate the way they recount the facts? Is not telling all the truth the same thing as lying?
A Separation received a lot off attention in the 2011 awards circles, where it won Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards and the Academy Awards.