NYFF Spotlight: A Separation
Posted by Michael Gibbons on 9.13.2011
Why you should see it:
Word-of-mouth for A Separation has been astoundingly positive ever since it swept the awards at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Director Asghar Farhadi has been praised for a complex and multi-nuanced approach, featuring strong performances by the male and female cast alike. What starts as a deceptively simple domestic drama soon takes unexpected twists, building layer upon layer with unsolved mysteries and echoes of legal thrillers.
A Separation premiered at the prestigious Berlinale, where it won the Golden Bear for Best Film as well as the top prizes for Best Actor and Actress for its male and female ensembles. It has travelled the international circuit (including the Toronto International Film Festival), picking up the Sydney Film Prize on the way for its look “beneath the surface of relations between men and women in Iran in a way that raises questions about law, freedom and feminine and masculine honor.”
After the success of About Elly (2009), Farhadi had a relatively easy time finding funding for the film. His was one of the four initial projects selected for a $25,000 grant through the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund. “There are two ways to finance films in Iran: via government support or from the private sector. I chose the latter. I also received a loan from Iranian bank Pasargad. It wasn’t so hard to find people with an interest in the film as About Elly was quite a success,” Farhadi said in an interview with Screen Daily.
About the director:
Asghar Farhadi is an Iranian filmmaker who graduated from the University of Tehran in 1998. After working in student plays, national radio, and television hits, his first feature film was 2003’s Dancing in the Dust. He went on to direct the award-winning films The Beautiful City in 2004 and Fireworks Wednesday in 2006, and won major international recognition with About Elly (2009), about a group of Iranians who take a trip to the Caspian Sea that turns tragic.
Farhadi said the concept of A Separation just came to him: “The idea for the film came to when I was sitting in the kitchen of my friend’s flat in Berlin nearly one year ago. I was here preparing another film, but I decided to do this one instead. I was smoking a cigarette in the kitchen, listening to some Iranian music and then I decided to make it. The film is influenced by my personal experiences and the situation in Iran and also some abstract pictures I had in my mind. It was like a puzzle. The story was in my mind for some time but when I decided to make it it happened quickly.”
What the critics are saying:
“A gripping moral and social drama set in present-day Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to the fine About Elly lifts the director to the front rank of contemporary world directors, and should be compulsive viewing for anyone wondering what has happened to Iranian cinema. It is compelling viewing for just about everybody, for that matter.” Lee Marshall, Screen Daily
"A Separation could hardly be more concrete, or contemporary, or dramatic. Flawlessly crafted, brilliantly performed and elegantly photographed, it follows a succession of disastrous consequences that flow from the marital split, and that pose profound moral questions without venturing judgments." Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal
“An unhappily married couple break up in this complex, painful, fascinating Iranian drama by writer-director Asghar Farhadi, with explosive results that expose a network of personal and social faultlines. A Separation is a portrait of a fractured relationship and an examination of theocracy, domestic rule and the politics of sex and class – and it reveals a terrible, pervasive sadness that seems to well up through the asphalt and the brickwork.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"Tense and narratively complex, formally dense and morally challenging, Iranian helmer-writer Asghar Farhadi's impressive drama A Separation is his strongest work yet.”
Alissa Simon, Variety
What the NYFF programmers say:
“A Separation is the movie that swept the Berlin Film Festival this year: it won the Golden Bear (which is the top prize), it also won a collective best actress award for the two leading actresses, and a collective best actor award for the two leading actors. It has since gone on to become a huge hit at the French box office, and is already ranked as one of the top 250 highest-rated films of all time on the IMDB, despite not yet having opened in North America! It’s a film that begins as a domestic drama about a couple who agree to a trial separation because the wife wants to go to America with their 11 year-old daughter and start a new life, and the husband doesn’t want to leave Iran because he is too concerned about caring for his Alzheimers-afflicted father. Then the movie evolves into a type of legal thriller, because a woman that the husband hires to help take care of the father falls on the stairs outside the apartment and has a miscarriage and says that the man pushed her on the stairs and he says that he didn’t know she was pregnant—and we realize that the director, Asghar Farhadi, has been very careful about what he does and doesn’t show us on screen, so that we the audience can’t say for sure what did or didn’t happen. So we have a Rashomon or Twelve Angry Men sort of movie with brilliant acting and a very impressive script that is also a very revealing portrait of class and social status in Iran. A must-see.” - Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director