The Iranian drama A Separation is impossible to discuss in depth without revealing certain key developments. To do that—even moreso than with most films—is to rob neophytes of one of its chief pleasures. It’s no spoiler to say the title isn’t much of a spoiler: the progressive Simin (Leila Hatami) separates from her flustered husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) in the opening scene, citing his reluctance to move to a less restrictive country. It’s impossible to predict how this will lead to the possible ruination of their lives, as well as those of others (including their young daughter). Let’s just say Nader’s hiring of the childish, pregnant, sketchy Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to tend to his Alzheimer’s-stricken father leads to an unfortunate altercation, and that matters careen even more madly from there.
As hard as it is to perform an non-spoilering analsys of A Separation, it’s equally difficult to describe its merits without lapsing into freakish hyperbole. So, let’s get this out of the way: Writer-director Asghar Farhadi has penned the most air-tight drama in ages, whose balance of character, theme and plot harkens back to the classics of Ibsen and Chekhov. Where Kenneth Lonergan’s revolutionary script for Margaret captured the messiness of life regularly elided by screenwriters, A Separation is its opposite: a sound, traditional piece of craftsmanship. And yet it’s still the superior piece of writing.
That’s not to say it’s so “written” that it suffocates. It breathes with life at the same time it’s obviously been created. Like Farhadi’s barely seen (and only slightly less worthy) debut, About Elly, A Separation spends the first couple reels innocently sauntering through the chaos of life before blindsiding its characters—and the audience—with a left-field tragedy. From there, Farhadi treats us as a judge—indeed, the first shot is a POV from a judge’s seat—over his characters. It’s a mighty task, given that each one is prone to all-too-human self-deception. As new facts emerge, and the blame shifts rapidly between them, this small Iranian film takes on the feel of a rollercoaster. And on top of all this the film is also, sometimes subliminally, a devastating portrait of the effects of divorce on young children. Fuck fearing hyperbole: A Separation is basically perfect.