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Raising, Not Answering, Provocative Questions

This stunning Iranian film, “A Separation,” by writer-director Asghar Farhadi, his fifth in nine years, won the 2012 Academy Award for best foreign film; but for my money it was simply the finest movie of the year. It is so real that you feel you are watching life happening. While our own politicians talk of bombing Iran, Farhadi reminds us that Iran is more than an abstraction or a problem in geopolitics. It is home to a people who endure the contradictions and absurdities of its theocracy while dealing with existential problems like people everywhere. The film is the same kind of singular achievement as “The Hurt Locker,” with the hypnotic pull of a thriller. Its characters experience a broad array of troubles, disappointments, deceits, lies and miseries — some self-inflicted, some societal. But the natural, taut performances and the overall high level of craft raises a tale of divorce into a suspenseful moral riddle, a story of good people making bad decisions. Nader (Peyman Moadi) and his wife, Simin (Leila Hatami), have arrived at a deadlock. Simin wants to leave Iran, while Nader, whose father has Alzheimer’s and cannot care for himself, refuses to leave. Under Islamic law, Simin cannot take their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter), without Nader’s consent. He refuses, and when Simin walks out, Nader is left with daughter, father and a troubled and untrustworthy caregiver, Razieh (Sareh Bayat). Quickly, one plausible lie leads to another and another. No one seems to tell the truth to each other. And only the children, Termeh and Razieh’s huge-eyed little girl, seem to know lies when they hear them. Farhadi ratchets up tension and e cinematographer Mahmood Kalari, who has a knack for making the quotidian intimate. A lot of the movie is shot in tight spaces — an apartment, a courthouse hallway, a stairwell, a crowded living room. And much is shot closeup for slice-of-life, near-documentary effect. Kalari’s shots flow like life caught on the fly. The film is almost seamless. In the end, Farhadi is so confident that he leaves his movie hanging, like an unresolved musical chord. He gives us no answer to the moral riddle he has posed, just provocative questions. “A Separation” is showing at the Triplex in Great Barrington, MA, and will be shown at The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY, in the near future. The film is in Farsi with English subtitles and runs 123 minutes. It is rated PG-13.

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