For Want of a Nail....
The Sound of Slamming Chadors
With all the talk about Iran's nuclear capabilities, here's a brilliant film about Iran's equally volatile nuclear families.
It begins as Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are petitioning for a divorce, bickering over the issues that are causing the rift. Simin wants to leave the country, and finally has the opportunity to do so within a 40 day time-limit. She wants Nader and their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) to come with her, but he will not—he is chief caretaker for his father, suffering from Alzheimer's, and he will not give up his responsibilities, and as the head of the household, he will not let the daughter leave, either. And yet the whole point of Simin trying to get them out of the country is for Termeh to have a better chance at life, without the bitter subjugation of women and the yoke of Sharia law...not that she can say that in court (of course).
It's a case of "He said/She said" that plays out with complications, obfuscations, deflections, feints, irrelevancies, and opinions posing as facts, and no choices about anything. They have reached an impasse—she wants them to leave, and he feels he can't leave—and so petitioning for divorce is the only way for her to leave, but she must do so without the daughter. He won't let the daughter go, as long as he needs help taking care of Dad, and so...hence, the petition for a divorce.
The scene is played in a long (but complicatedly acted) two-shot of the couple facing the camera explaining the situation, bickering back and forth and pleading their case before an unseen magistrate...or uncaring bureaucrat...and, owing to the camera position, us, putting the audience in the uncomfortable position of sharing that man's perspective. We're hearing all of this for the first time (as is he) and as the mire they're in increases, one wonders how it could possibly be resolved, even if, to the magistrate, it is "a small problem," insufficient to grant a divorce, but enough for the couple to take the matter into their own hands for A Separation (or جدایی نادر از سیمین , or Jodái-e Náder az Simin, or "The Separation of Nader from Simin").
That act complicates things further: Nader has to work, Termeh attends school, and Simin's absence leaves Dad alone and unmanaged for a dangerous amount of time. Simin suggests hiring a care-taker, and they hire Razieh (Sareh Bayat)—poor, pregnant, with six year old daughter in tow, and working without her unemployed husband's permission (he's played, in a tough role to make sympathetic, by Shahab Hosseini)—who, before long, is overwhelmed with her duties, but must continue with them to provide for her family.
Now, bear in mind, I've just described the first fifteen minutes of the movie, which twists and turns into more complications, altercations, and incarcerations, in what seem to be an insolvable cluster of traps within traps involving duty and responsibility, ideology over practicality, patriarchal authority over common sense, and the inexorable demand of law to tidy things up by whatever means seems to be easier and more expeditious at that moment in time, with the volume and volubility increasing over time until the tension is ready to be snapped by anything, like the upsettlingly loud violence suggested by the sound of Nader and Simin's rattlingly concussive front door. If this were a comedy, it would be one of the "incredible mess" variety, where everything collapses of its own weight and complexity, and only when those affected from it emerge, dusty and disheveled and with nothing left to lose, does the madness of the situation become apparent to them.
But, this isn't a comedy. It feels like real life, whether Persian or American, and makes one realize that there's more in common than what separates the two countries, and the whole thing plays out like an expansion of that first scene—unsolvable, intractable, frustrating—not a vicious circle, but a vicious triangulation...with very sharp damaging points.
And it's not a comedy because no one, not anybody, comes to their senses.
It's the stuff of great drama, even tragedy, and were it to originate in the U.S., it might be subject to the dramaturgy that always makes me want to put my head in my hands and burble (half-jokingly) "why doesn't everybody just get a good night's sleep?" But, the thought never crosses the mind watching this understated, deceptively low-key presentation, subtly and artfully processing the hysterics of the situation, and channelling it into Art. It's devastating. And A Separation is right up there with The Tree of Life and The Descendants as one of my favorite films of the year—each taking on the subject of (as Warren Beatty, of all people, described it) "the sanctity of Family" and finding distinct ways to present it.
A Separation is a Full-Price Ticket.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
For Want of a Nail....