Monday, January 9, 2012

A Separation

Because the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is not a piece of fluff and deals with a cycle of endless conflict on a microcosmic level one can’t help but look at the movie on a macrocosmic or global level. Is the small world of the movie, which deals with memory, blame and most importantly forgetting, making some sort of statement about the increasing marginalization of a major power in the Middle East? One thing is sure. A Separation starts out a surprisingly cross-cultural note—almost as a way of contravening the film’s possibly symbolic content.  Any arguing couple will recognize the agon of blame and spite that characterizes the relationship between Simin and Nader and the burden that is put on their daughter Termeh who is asked to take sides in the struggle. Arguing couples will also recognize how a flame of discord can turn a home into a tinderbox. Farhadi is quite artful in this respect since the explosive turn of events, in which the warring couple eventually becomes entwined, lurks in the conflict between Teheran’s middle class (of which Simin and Nader are members) and the disenfranchised working classes where the seeds of fundamentalist belief  reside. To the extent that it departs from its initial domestic plot, Farhadi’s movie is unfamiliar both in style and structure, presenting a tableau that western audiences won’t ultimately identify with at all. Firstly, it ends on a question mark, with no resolution of its central plot element. Secondly, it presents a world of courtroom bureaucracy that might be called Kafkaesque were it not for the parochial morality which is the palette from which Farhadi works.  Returning back to the larger issues that the film raises, many historically orientated movies place their emphasis on memory. The Santayana line,"those who cannot remember the past are condemned repeat it" is often the subliminal epigraph. A Separation is unique amongst modern films from any culture in that it places its emphasis on forgetting. Nader’s father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, is an emblematic character, a kind of Tiresias whose loss of conviction holds out a perverse hope. But of what? In the sixties, it used to be called blowing your mind.

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