Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Separation Captivates In Its Depiction of a Crumbling Family

It’s been a while since I watched a movie as good as A Separation. I’m honestly struggling to remember the last time I was this blown away by a motion picture. In the hands of writer Niloufar Banisaied and director Asghar Farhadi, the story of an Iranian couple going through the process of divorce unleashes a tidal wave of turmoil, morally complex actions and compelling drama. The most engrossing drama can also be the most intimate. You don’t need scale to make me engaged with what’s happening on-screen. Those simple yet effective truths are epitomized in every aspect of A Separation.

A Separation establishes its creative camerawork right off the bat by shooting the first scene from inside a copier. The viewer is placed inside this machine as it scans a series of passports and other important documents belonging to Simin (Leila Hatami), her husband Nadir (Peyman Moaadi) and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). Just look at how much is accomplished in this scene. The type of visuals we’ll be seeing throughout A Separation are established. We get introduced to our characters through the photographs and text on the copied documents. Quick glimpses of Simin hurriedly placing new documents on the copier also make it apparent that there’s a sense of urgency motivating this character.

All of this gets introduced without undercutting the quiet nature of this opening scene. It’s quietly masterful filmmaking that persist throughout the rest of A Separation. After this opening scene, we jump into Simin and Nadir sitting next to each other in front of a judge. Here, Simin is explaining her reasons for wanting a divorce. The individual personalities of our lead characters are vividly rendered in this scene, which is framed primarily through a single take. Simin wants to leave this country, Nadir wants to stay behind to take care of his Alzheimer’s-riddled father, among other reasons. The scene relies entirely on both Banisaied’s writing as well as the performances of Hatami and Moaddi. That turns out to be more than enough to carry this sequence.

Also present in this scene is a fascinating visual motif throughout A Separation. The camera captures Simin and Nadir at the same angle as the judge watching over them. It replicates the idea that we are in the same room as these characters. It’s a quietly immersive detail that heightens our connection to these characters. Also helping this achievement is Farhadi and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari’s decision to eschew wide shots throughout the entirety of A Separation. The characters in this movie are always framed as close to the viewer, there is never a moment where the camera tries to provide distance between us and this family. They are all trapped together, so we must be too.

As the film progresses, the problems that led to Simin pursuing a divorce aren’t the only issues this family has to deal with. Nadir forcibly threw out a woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who was tasked with taking care of Nadir’s father. In the process of violently removing her, Razieh had a miscarriage. Now Nadir is up on murder charges. From here, A Separation makes great use of morally complex characters to keep the viewer captivated. One moment, I’m enraged at Nadir and his behavior towards Razieh. The next moment, my heart breaks for Nadir as I watch him (in a beautifully composed single-take) wash his father and then slowly begin to break down into tears.

All the characters in A Separation have that level of heartbreaking richness to them, with Termeh’s woes being especially potent. A Separation is many things but it’s primarily the story of a daughter realizing her father is human. Termeh starts the movie idolizing Nadir. Slowly but surely, though, she begins to realize he is a much more complex person. A scene depicting Termeh asking her father about how he could have possibly been ignorant about Razieh’s pregnancy hauntingly encapsulates this. Nadir has to come clean to his daughter about being a liar, a flawed person. Suddenly, the world opens up for Termeh in the most tragic sense.

The growing sense of distance between the members of this family are visually reflected in the choice to frequently frame characters like Simin and Nadir behind panes of glass. This barrier between people reflects the emotional barriers being formed between members of this fractured family. Such barriers lead to a sense of turmoil between our three lead characters that A Separation wisely refuses to wrap up in a tidy manner. Ending on an ambiguous note regarding which of her parents Termeh wants live with, the final shot of A Separation lingers on Nadir just sitting in a chair. No matter what answer his daughter gives to the judge, nothing will be the same. Some movies stumble across the finish lines in their final scene. A Separation, by contrast, sprints across the finish line like Usain Bolt with what's practically the cinematic equivalent of a mic-drop. Farhadi has made the sight of a guy sitting in a chair drip with harrowing tragedy. What a fittingly impressive feat for the impressive feature A Separation.

No comments:

Post a Comment