A Separation is a film that can illicit such an intense visceral reaction that it can be paralyzing. The seamless method in which writer/director Asghar Farhadi integrates concepts of religion, masculine hegemony, feminine subversion, familial bonds, and the struggles between emotions and law into his film is nothing short of astonishing. Here’s a film that relishes in its ability to develop broad concepts into a condensed narrative arch that looks like a piece of naturalistic cinema. It’s a picture that is handled with a great deal of formal sophistication yet somehow feels impromptu and probing, to the point that it feels like the audience is wrapped up in the grand turmoil that is afflicting the film’s central family. And perhaps most impressive of all is A Separation’s unbiased perspective on the issues at hand – characters have their reasons for doing what they’re doing, with an awareness of the possible outcomes. These characters have a worldview that may differ from my own, but the logic and fierce emotional work invested in their arguments is so captivating. Farhadi’s observations on human behavior doesn’t carry a hint of cynicism, yet remains ingrained in reality – for that, the picture’s humane perspective transcends any cultural barriers and makes for an incredibly accessible and universal film.
I’ll bypass any attempt to summarize the film, as part of what makes A Separation so incredibly moving is how you immerse yourself in the proceedings. Farhadi develops an incredible rhythm, whereupon the mundane aspects of life seep into the life of a married couple. Their 11 year old daughter is the film’s central moral compass, serving to unite opposing sides. Of great importance to both the formal narrative and the film’s broader philosophical statements, the adolescent daughter almost communicates directly with the audience, wherein she observes the behaviors and actions of her parents with an innocent, though perceptive, eye.
Farhadi seems to draw his visual technique from the Dardenne brothers, though it’s a bit more subdued – there aren’t grand crescendos of technique where he chases after his characters. Instead, Farhadi tends to allow his character’s volatile emotions to register through the screen. It’s at particular points throughout the film where we see Farhadi simply position his camera in a stationary position. I made note at the beginning of my write-up of how paralyzing the picture can become. These bouts seem to mirror Farhadi’s reaction to the proceedings – he holds the camera still and simply observes the palpable reality of the situation. This method doesn’t just advance the narrative, but offers additional insight to the philosophically probing nature of the picture. Bookended by essentially the same sequence, Farhadi brings a close to this method of paralyzing stillness, wherein he observes a couple – the subtle differences between them, from their position in the frame to their body language, provides the picture with an immediate sense of profundity.