Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Separation

Two years ago, wrote and directed the extraordinary movie A Separation.  It's a deeply moving film about a couple in Iran: she wants to leave the country with her young pre-teenage daughter to have a better life; he wants to stay because his father has Alzheimer's, and lives with the couple. She asks for a divorce from the court; the court doesn't think she has sufficient cause because there's nothing wrong with the man and it isn't as if she doesn't love him. From this somewhat unusual starting point the film wends its way through increasing complications as the husband tries to find someone to look after his father during the day, and winds up before the court again on a very different charge. To say how it all pans out in any detail would be to thoroughly spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.
There are lies at every hand, all seemingly small, but all causing further trouble for the liars. The trouble is, the truth is difficult, and sometimes it seems easier to lie in order to get yourself out of a difficult situation. Almost no one in the story is immune from this difficulty, though some try harder than others to avoid the lies.
The Iran in this movie is a very different one from that we generally see on TV in the news. Yes, there are issues over sin, and the women have their heads covered all the time, and the Quran is used as a tool to swear by on several occasions. But beyond that, these are ordinary human beings living in a modern society that has everything any Western society has. For me it was an eye-opener in these terms.
The justice system is different: the plaintiffs and defendants can shift place at the drop of a hat, and there is only one harried, though authoritative, man dealing with each case. No lawyers, and only one or two other court staff in each small room. Dozens of complaints are being heard throughout a large building simultaneously. This was also intriguing, though somewhat scary. The judge has power to condemn to death, and almost does. But he can be pleaded with too, and that's the amazing thing. None of this nit-picking over the minutia of the law. You have to speak for yourself and speak well, and may be interrupted by the person in opposition to you.
The large cast is uniformly good, from the older actors to the children. There isn't a performance out of place here. Camera work, intentionally, isn't always steady - it's right in the middle of all the action at all times, but that unsteadiness is never obtrusive. Catch up on this movie on DVD.

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