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'A Separation' Review: Iranian Import Simmers with Middle Class Rage


I know I wasn’t expecting one of the year’s best movies to come from Iran, but here it is. In “A Separation,” writer-director Asghar Farhadi presents us with a minor domestic dispute–an argument, an angry shove–and keeps us riveted as it builds into a storm of desperate moral evasions that threaten to capsize several characters’ lives.

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The story is set in Tehran, but this is not the capital city of mad mullahs familiar from international news reports. Here, we are among the urban middle class, possibly the sort of people who still seethe with resentment over the country’s rigged 2009 presidential election. Their homes are stocked with up-to-date dishwashers and widescreen TVs; their children are provided with musical instruments and English-language tutors; their family cars are very nice, and women drive them. Religion is a fundamental presence in their lives (there’s a public telephone hotline to be called for doctrinal advice), but fanatical Islamism is nowhere in evidence. (Whether this is a necessary evasion on the director’s part is an open question.)

The movie begins bluntly, with a squabbling married couple in a judge’s chamber, making their separate cases directly to the camera. The wife, Simin (Iranian star Leila Hatami), wants the family to move abroad, for their 11-year-old daughter’s sake, and has acquired a visa for this purpose. The husband, Nader (a compelling Peyman Maadi), refuses to go, since it would mean leaving behind his father, who is a part of the household and is afflicted with Alzheimer’s; nor will he permit their child, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to leave the country with her mother. And so Simin wants a divorce; but the judge, unswayed by her grounds for one, won’t grant it.

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