'A Separation' is a film full of gray areas. No one in this movie embodies good or evil, they're simply characters who are trying to do their best with their lives while living within the confines of their strict religious beliefs. The movie ultimately leaves it up to you to decide who is right, who is wrong, or if there really is no right and wrong. I think I believe the latter.
Set amidst a strict Muslim-based government in Iran, 'A Separation' tells a story that you wouldn't think of when you hear the name Iran mentioned. 'A Separation' has nothing to do with the political climate we see portrayed on our 24-hour news stations. What the movie does is shed a light on a more subtle side of Iranian life. A life that includes dissolving marriages, people trying desperately to provide for their loved ones, courtrooms but no lawyers, and children dealing with the real possibility that their parents won't be living together much longer.
Nader (Peyman Moadi) is a good and honest man, but he's at a crossroads in his life. Hi wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants a divorce unless Nader agrees to come with her. To get out of Iran for good. Simin doesn't think that their current situation is conducive to their daughter's learning. Nader doesn't necessarily disagree with her, but he doesn't feel like he has a choice in leaving. His father has Alzheimer's, Nader and Simin have been caring for him at their home. Now with Simin threatening to leave, Nader must find someone to look after his father while he's at work.
Simin moves in with her mother, so Nader has to hire a caretaker to look after his father while he's gone. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout Muslim who comes to work with her tiny daughter. Razieh is so devout that she must consult with her religious leader on whether or not changing the soiled pants of a sickly old man would be considered a sin. Her main focus is providing for her family since her husband has been unemployed for months.
It's hard for me to describe the rest of the movie, since I feel if you don't know what's coming you can't really prepare yourself for it, which makes it better. I had no idea what to expect or where this seemingly standard story of family drama would take me. Needless to say I was surprised at the place it ended up.
Here we get to see a court system completely foreign to Americans. Here people fight for their own rights and never at any moment did lawyers step in and fight on behalf of the people accused. A judge listens to the proceedings, but his findings must be found to be in accordance with religious law.
Now you know that someone does something in order for the courts to get involved, but the what I will keep secret. I'm sure there are other reviews where you can find out what happened, but I'd rather leave that up to you to experience for yourself since much of the enjoyment of this powerful film is felt when your mind and heart are divided on which side to take; or if you should even take sides.
It's a movie filled with powerful acting performances, especially from the two leads. Conversations are heartfelt and genuine. Moadi and Hatami are so realistic in their roles as quarreling husband and wife that it's almost as if you've simply been let into the home of a couple on the ropes. Moadi plays Nader as a compassionate understanding man. Surrounded by a staunch patriarchal society Nader is kind-hearted and lets his wife speak her mind without so much as raising a hand to her. Hatami gives Simin a personality as fiery as her bright red hair. There are times where it almost seems she's taking advantage of her husband's empathetic attitude. Combining these personalities makes for a movie that intricately explores the tenuous relationship between husband and wife. Yet, that's only scratching the surface of 'A Separation'.
The movie has put a magnifying glass on an Iranian way of life that we might never know existed if we only listened to what cable news programs told us about the country. Here we see a tapestry of human drama painted against the backdrop of religion. Director/writer Asghar Farhadi is careful not to pick sides or influence one way or the other. He lets the story play out and calls upon the audience to draw their own conclusions. Although, there is the possibility you'll walk away never knowing whose side you were on, and maybe that's the point.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Sony Pictures Classics release comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, has been coded for Region A use, and comes on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc.
The video presentation for 'A Separation' is just as good as you'd expect from a Sony transfer. 'A Separation' was filmed with 35mm film and the 1080p transfer provided gives us a stunningly cinematic looking transfer. It may not be as "sharp" as some digitally filmed movies, but this has a very strong filmic presence that makes for a great looking picture.
Now even though it may not be as sharp that doesn't mean that the video lacks detail, because it certainly does not. Close-ups reveal all sorts of detail like the black-to-gray gradient of Nader's beard, or the soft lines on Simin's lips. When I commented about the sharpness it was simply to point out that the overall look of the film is made to look a little more gritty and hazy than your normal everyday movie. It simply has a slightly softer look to it as its grain is nice and consistent throughout.
Color is wonderfully rendered also. As most of the movie is covered in rich earth tones, like browns, dark greens, and blacks, there is one color that sufficiently stuck out the entire movie and that was the flaming red hair peeking out from beneath Simin's head covering. Her hair in this movie was beautiful, and I couldn't help but think, "I wish I could see more of it." Even though most of her hair stays hidden that small amount of burning red was enough color to give the movie's intentionally drab palette a much needed splash. I didn't notice any glaring inconsistencies in the movie's visuals. I thought I noticed some slight banding during the opening credits as a photocopier slides back and forth illuminating bands of white against the black backdrop. I was also sure I saw a few scenes where white blips and flecks popped up but they were gone in an instant and didn't really detract from the viewing pleasure. In conclusion, it's yet another great video presentation from Sony.
'A Separation' has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 mix in both Persian/Farsi and French languages. The English subtitles are selected by default when you play the movie.
Like the Artificial Eye import that was released in December of last year, the Sony release has been given the same DTS-HD 3.0 soundtrack. There has been no remixing of the original mix as far as I'm aware. That's okay, because there really isn't much need for a full-blown 5.1 or 7.1 surround mix on this movie. It really isn't in its nature to be given that type of immersive sound, because there are very few scenes where it would really come in handy (although a busy street scene and bustling courthouse hallways could've used some nicely place surround sound).
Here it's all about the dialogue which must indeed be clear and intelligible at all times because this is one of those movies where people constantly talk over one another. At times there are three or even four people yelling at each other, but the mix does a great job distinguishing them and placing them in the proper channels depending on where the voices are coming from. There is little in the way of LFE-producing scenes, so don't expect your woofer to get a workout here. The dialogue is clear and that's really all you can ask from a movie like this.
I really enjoyed 'A Separation' but it's not the kind of enjoyment where you jump up from your couch in jubilation. This is an introspective movie that challenges you to think and feel. A movie that will lead your brain down one avenue and your heart down the other. I felt torn between the movie's characters wanting to proclaim my allegiance to all of them, but failing to fall in line with any of them. It's a movie that doesn't influence how you should feel, instead it produces a story and genuine characters and then says, "Here they are. Here is their situation. How does it make you feel?"
'A Separation' comes highly recommended, not just because of the great video or clear audio but because the movie is something that needs to be experienced.