If Iran is known for anything (in America), it’s not film.
Rather, our common assumptions are derived from the numerous sound bytes we receive from Western news outlets. Reports of Iran’s emerging nuclear program. Stories of Iran’s conflict with neighboring states. And accounts of various abuses midst the theocratic rule.
And here lies the beauty of foreign films. We get a different window. One that’s built from within foreign borders. One that tells another story.
A Separation, arguably Iran’s most prominent and acclaimed film to date, assumes this role in more ways than one. The Western world witnesses an Iranian culture contrary to our presumptions. The state of Iran receives a story that it wishes was different. And the narrative itself revolves around the reality of opposing story lines.
Set in the capital city of Tehran, the film opens with a husband and wife facing an Iranian judge – a role that writer and director Asghar Farhadi subtly suggests is occupied by the viewer – shooting the entire scene from the (unseen) judge’s perspective. The couple is before the court attempting to settle a domestic dispute about whether or not they should leave Iran (the aspect of the film that the Iranian state is not thrilled about). The wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wishes to pursue greater opportunities for herself, their daughter, and women in general. Nader (Peyman Moaadi) refuses to leave due to his ailing father’s bout with Althzeimers – an easy excuse in lieu of the unspoken, yet apparent, resentment that has plagued their marriage.
The result is a separation eerily familiar to Western culture.
In fact, the titles namesake permeates the script. We see it in Nader and Simin’s fallen marriage. We see it within class distinction, in government rule, and in the prominence of religious differences. All of which can easily be mistaken as distinctively “Iranian”.
But Farhardi has crafted a story that eventually breaks any remaining cultural barriers that might exist for Westerners. Brokenness is brokenness. And the pursuit of justice and grace is a reality that goes well beyond the cast.
A Separation is undoubtedly worthy of it’s recent Oscar win (Best Foreign Picture) and arguably the top “dysfunctional family” film of the year. And while I have no real means of knowing whether or not this is an adequate representation of Iranian culture, it certainly provides a new window and tells a story that you won’t hear on CNN – one that might be a bit more familiar than you’d think.