Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation, a forthcoming Sony Classics release which won the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, is far and away the finest film I’ve seen at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival…and I didn’t even see the first 40 minutes’ worth. But soon after I slipped into the Chuck Jones theatre early yesterday afternoon I knew I was in the presence of something genuine, compassionate, complex and unflinching. This Iranian film is affecting and profound in a way that transcends nationality and culture and any other obstacle you can think of.
Given the thick-headed reputation of the Academy’s notorious foreign-language branch, it’s conceivable that A Separation might not receive its just due, which would at least be a nomination for a Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar. I’m not predicting that a torch-carrying mob will storm Academy headquarters on Wilshire Blvd. if this fails to happen, but it will be a moment of Profound Industry Shame.
Shot in Teheran, A Separation (previously called Nader and Simin, A Separation) is basically about class and repression and violated honor and families. Particularly two families — a relatively well-to-do one and a lower-class one headed by a hot-tempered husband and a submissive, deeply religious wife. The plot centers on a claim by the latter couple that the pater familias who hired the poor wife to take care of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad pushed her down a flight of stairs and caused her to miscarry. Iranian law says this can be rectified with a payoff, which the angry, lower-class husband desperately needs to pay off creditors.
Farhadi is a master filmmaker whose aesthetic focus and talent at this moment sits on a precipice far above the Hollywood efforts of Scorsese-Spielberg. The combination of the simplicity of his technique and the deeply compelling performances (the cast is headed by Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi) are blended in this instance with a story that hits on a riveting moral-ethical issue. The upshot is a dividend that is socially and psychologically revealing in a way that is truly exceptional.
The Telluride AARP crowd was on its feet and applauding like mad when the lights came up following yesterday’s showing.
Yes, going apeshit over two-thirds of a film is ill-advised. I made that mistake when I raved about Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, only to realize that the last 30% of the drama, which I was forced to miss, didn’t work as well as the first 70%. But endings are everything, and any film working as well as A Separation does for the last two-thirds = unassailable. I don’t care if the first 40 minutes is about the use of donkey turds for fertilizer. I’ll see the part I missed at the Toronto Film Festival or in New York late this month.
Sony Classics will release A Separation on 12.30.11.