A Separation was one of my most anticipated films from 2011. It was nominated for best foreign language film and best screenplay at this years Academy Awards. Foreign films rarely get nominated for major categories even when they’re vastly superior to their American counterparts. It was pretty exciting to see A Separation get that recognition from the Academy. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see it until mid-February, and it’s likely you haven’t either. The film has received a very slow release by Sony Picture Classics. I’m guessing they’re waiting to win the best foreign film Oscar to give the film a wider release. Most Oscar pundits consider it a shoe in. Are they right?
A Separation is a definitely a good film. I understand why it was nominated for best screenplay by the Academy. I absolutely loved the opening scene of the film. It didn’t spend time slowly introducing us to all the characters before revealing a conflict. Simin begins the film trying to get a divorce with her husband, Nadir, because she wants to get her daughter out of Iran. They argue in front of an Iranian judge about why they should leave or stay in Iran. Nadir can’t leave his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The judge sides with Nadir. This decision reveals the sexism within Iranian culture (but let’s not act like Iran is a lone here) that’s underneath the surface the entire film and affects every decision and action in the film, even when new, devastating, conflicts arise.
That said, I think the film is a good example dialogue being the most important aspect of a screenplay when it comes to awards. It’s understandable, it’s the easiest part of a screenplay to notice. I honestly thought the screenplay had some problems. There was an extended period of time where the film was kind of treading water. After the judge rules against Simin the film kind stands still until a characters actions really propels it forward. Once this happens the film becomes a little repetitive. Scene after scene of family drama and bickering. These scenes are very well done, but something just felt off to me.
The filmmaking craft in this film is amazing. I loved the understated handheld camera. It made everything feel so real, and it wasn’t distracting in any way (a problem I had with Pariah’s shaky handheld close-ups). The acting in this film is absolutely incredible. It’s definitely an ensemble cast, but every single actor gets multiple opportunities to shine. If everything after the opening scene until the final act of the film was tighter I really think I could have loved this film. But this section of the film kind of lost me. That said, I am a white, American male. My life has never been like anything the women in this film deal with. There are probably a ton of little things I’m missing during this portion of the film that are incredibly powerful for other people.
Even when I didn’t love the film, I loved the way it treated its characters. There is no evil antagonist (besides society). We understand every single character’s motives. The film is never black and white. It’s always operating in shades of grey and that is something I wish all films did. I also really did love the last third of the film. It was really emotional and powerful. Especially the final sequence and shot. Every once in a while I’m watching a film and say to myself, “Please let this be the final shot.” With A Separation I got my wish. This is a film I really need to see again. You can’t watch this film and say it’s bad. It’s too well made. But right now I respect the film. I don’t love it.