A Separation (Farhadi, 2011) is the story of a family in modern day Iran which is split by a mother’s desperate desire to leave the country and he husband’s proud refusal to do so. The tragic events that follow are precipitated by this family schism.
There are many wonderful things about Asghar Farhadi’s film, but foremost is the sensitive and subtle portrayal of all the characters; there are no caricatures here. Farhadi writes and shoots his characters with such compassion that we understand their desperate desire to do the right thing in a morally difficult situation. The empathy Farhadi is engenders for his characters is vital as the story unfolds and their actions have terrible, unintended consequences. And through this lens the audience is forced to question their own judgment, to ask themselves what they would have done in such a situation?
The second, and most powerful theme of Farhadi’s tale is the pressure placed on a child by the selfish and conflicting desires of her parents. The portrayal of Termeh by Sarina Farhadi (Asghar’s daughter) is a finely drawn gem. Although the film can be read as a wider critique of the effects of religion, gender and class on Iranian society, it’s Termeh’s story as the stoic, quiet daughter desperately trying to reconcile her squabbling parents, which lies at the heart of the film. One particular scene remains fixed in my mind, in which Termeh questions her father about his guilt or innocence, but he refuses to answer. Instead he asks her to decide if he is guilty or not, pushing the weight of responsibility onto her. Her aching longing for her father’s reassurance, together with a dawning realisation that her parents are flawed individuals, is painful to watch. The final scenes of the film show her choosing which parent she will live with once their divorce is final; her parents cannot decide themselves, so once again the burden of choice falls to her. We never learn of her decision, it’s another question that Farhadi leaves the audience to answer themselves.
Farhadi, A., (2011) A Separation, Asghar Farhadi