The film A Separation by Asghar Farhadhi was the first Iranian film to ever win an Oscar for “Best Foreign Language Film” in 2012. From just looking at the cover photos of a few of his works, there is a common theme of conflict between a husband (Nader) and wife (Simin). A Separation is no exception to that. In addition to the marital issues between Nader and Simin, a complication develops between Nader and the pregnant caregiver (Razieh) that he hires for his senile father. The incident that sparked all the other altercations was when Nader found out that Razieh had tied his father to the bed so she could step out during her shift. Infuriated, Nader shoves Razieh out of his house, which she later uses to accuse him for her miscarriage. In this film, we are brought along on a family’s journey of separation that manifests conflicts regarding social class, gender, and religion.
The film starts with the married couple Simin and Nader disputing in front of a judge in court. They are arguing over a divorce and also to decide who would gain custody of their daughter Termeh. The wife Simin has been granted an exit visa to leave their country of Iran, but she wants to bring her daughter and husband with her as well. Her main reason for wanting to leave is because she didn’t want Termeh to grow up in an environment where there is such a strong oppression against women. If she takes Termeh abroad, she would be presented with new opportunities that would not have been accessible back in Iran. Despite that, her husband Nader refuses to leave because he needs to stay in Iran to care for his ill father. The couple continues to bicker over each other while the judge has to cut in multiple times. Nader decides to allow for the divorce but is strongly against letting Simin take Termeh away. Ultimately, they are unable to come to a conclusion, and the judge orders them to leave because it is not seen as a big issue in his eyes.
The next scene I want to further acknowledge is the ending of the film. Simin and Nader are once again back at the courthouse, but this time with Termeh as well. Unlike the first session at court, they are not in each other’s faces as much. They seem less angry and annoyed with each other. Instead, they even seem to be appearing as if they had come to terms with the situation they are in. Termeh is the main point of the session this time. The judge asks for her personal opinion on whether she wants to stay with her father, or leave to live with her mother. The first time the judge asks her, she walks closer slowly, but tears start to roll down her cheeks. She is filled with deep sadness to the depth of not being able to answer his question. He proceeds to ask her a few more times while also doubting if she has actually come to a decision. Termeh states that she has come to a conclusion, but would prefer if her parents step outside while she delivers her answer. The judge then asks Simin and Nader to step outside so he can hear her verdict. The final part of the film shows Simin and Nader standing and waiting outside for Termeh. We never actually get to hear her decision even as the ending credits roll in.
The beginning scene is viewed from the judge’s perspective. In a way, it is also viewed as the audience’s (our) perspective. We watch as a husband and wife present their problems to us as if we are the ones that are judging them. As the argument progresses, we see Nader coming closer and closer to us (the screen) and eventually blocking Simin almost completely. This represents the gender conflict aspect, and the power Nader has over Simin as a husband in Iran. The Irian government favors males over females, so in this case, the law sides with Nader. When Simin boldly expresses that she does not want Termeh to grow up in a country under those circumstances, the judge blatantly replies with “What kind of circumstances?”. This shows the lack of acknowledgement for the oppression of women in that culture. Another way this theme is shown in the film is by the amount of screen time Simin has. As the film continues, the total time that Simin is off-screen increases.
In almost all religions and cultures, we are taught to respect our elders. Nader refuses to leave the country with Simin because he needed to stay and take care of his unwell father. From Simin’s perspective, she might not understand where Nader is coming from. She even questioned him at one point asking him why he is staying by his father when he doesn’t even recognize his own son. Nader confidently replied that it was okay if his father could not recognize him. He is able to recognize his father and that was all that mattered. The director purposely uses slow cinema to film when Nader takes care of his father. This helps inflict empathy and the idea of realism onto the audience. We as the audience begin to side with Nader as we see him taking care of his father with such love.
After the first few scenes, the perspective shifts from the audience’s to Termeh’s. We are viewing her point of view on her parent’s constant arguing at home. We also witness the on growing conflicts in the film through Termeh’s perspective. She was present when Nader hired the pregnant Razieh as a care-taker, and was also the first one to find her grandfather unconscious while tied to his bed. Due to that incident, she also witnesses the fight between Nadar and Razieh, along with seeing him shove her. The director Farhadi’s mise en scene also helps contrasts the different social classes between Nader and Razieh’s family. The first and most obvious way he does this is by implicating that Nader is superior because he is the employer that is hiring Razieh. Right away, we notice the difference in wealth just by looking at the way Simin and Razieh dresses. Simin is often seen wearing American influenced clothing and brands. Her hijab is also very loose and reveals her red-dyed hair. On the contrary, Razieh is always almost completely covered up. She is often dressed up in dark colors like black. Both Simin and Nader have their own cars as a mode of transportation while Razieh has to wake up early in the morning just to take the bus to them. There is also a scene which is viewed from Simin’s perspective where she watches Razieh and her daughter get onto the bus. The hardships of the lower-class is portrayed through them in that scene.
Identical to the beginning scene, the ending scene is also in the perspective of Termeh’s eyes. The other thing that is identical is the setting of the two scenes. Both take place in the courthouse and in front of a judge. The difference in this scene is that Termeh is present to decide on which parent she wishes to live with. Another difference is the mood of the ending. It is the total opposite from the beginning. Simin and Nader appear to be more at peace and understanding towards each other’s feelings. Farhadi uses a close-up shot to capture Termeh’s face. He does a good job by being able to fully put the focus on her emotions while tears stream down her face. The perspective changes to the judge’s (and audience’s) for that spit moment so we can feel the difficulty of the choice that she has to make.
After the judge asks Simin and Nader to step outside, we see the camera following them outside of the room. The perspective goes back to Termeh’s point of view. In the beginning scene, we see Simin and Nader sitting side-by-side in one shot. Their problems were not fully set in stone yet. During the majority of the film, Simin and Nader were on the same side of the conflict despite their marriage problems. There was still a spark of hope that they would eventually resolve their complications. However, in the ending scene, we see Simin and Nader walking towards opposite sides of the hallway. This time, they are not sitting next to each other. There is also a cracked window door that is in between them. The door is the physical barrier between them; however, it also signifies a rift in their marriage. The crack on the glass also symbolizes the status of their relationship. Nader is the first one to sit down while Simin stands there and watches him for a while. She is looking towards her husband as the last bits of hope for their marriage dissipates. Soon after, she also sits down which represents the final verdict. They are filmed looking at different directions which can exemplify the different paths their lives are heading towards. There is absolutely no talking between them, but we hear noises of the other families at court as the background noise. In a way, Simin and Nader are isolated in that moment from everyone and everything that is going on in that place. We never learn of Termeh’s decision, but I think the director made it that way with the purpose of making us as the audience fully become the judge.
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