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NYFF 2011. Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation"

Far more than "a screenwriter's film," A Separation is also "a fine account of Iran's predicament."

"'It's a screenwriter's film,' said a friend of Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a designation that is at once accurate and dismissive, on the nose and besides the point," begins Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot. "Yes, the film, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin and received excellent reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival before its [screening] at NYFF, is extremely well-written, but the idea that its writerly qualities should preclude its recognition as vital cinema strikes me as pretty reductive. The film is superbly written, but it's also smartly directed, insofar as there's a continuity between its writer-director's ideas and the visual language he uses to express them. Take, for example, Farhadi's staging of the first scene…"

Segue to Michael J Anderson: "Opening with a pre-credit passage in which separating eponymous leads Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) address an off-camera magistrate in a tight, frontal two-shot, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin, 2011) proceeds to cultivate the first long-take's implied logic of domestic surveillance, with the film's consistently transparent home architecture taking the lead hereafter. Farhadi's focal domestic interior — in which Nader and sixth-grade daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) live with the former's Alzheimer's debilitated father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) — is divided by a series of French doors, interior apertures and even a translucent glass front entrance that all bring the film's domestic melodrama into public view. Consistently compressing the visual field in telephoto, Farhadi and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari's camera shoots through these visually permeable barriers, as well as through the home's exterior windows, in a creating a sense that nothing in this household (as in the Iranian nation itself) is beyond the purview of its invisible monitors." Do go and read on.

A little over a week ago, the New York Review of Books ran a piece "by a writer who wishes to remain anonymous." Farhadi's film "is a fine account of Iran's predicament; anyone interested in the mysteries of change and tradition — the difficulties faced by many people as they try and reconcile themselves to modern values and norms — will learn much from it. I saw it in Tehran this summer, and so movingly did it reflect what I was witnessing around me, I was surprised that the authorities had allowed it to be screened." Nader, Simin, Termeh: this "family is mildly patriotic — they listen to Persian classical music and Nader has a preference for Persian over Arabic loan words — but the West seems to offer more opportunities and freedom…. Thus, without mentioning politics, Asghar Farhadi makes his portrait of a Westernized Iranian family — exactly the sort of people who would support the Green Movement. His depiction of poor, pious Tehran is equally convincing. Razieh [Sareh Bayat], a poor woman who is guided by Islam and whom Nader has engaged to nurse his father, seems like a typical Ahmadinejad supporter but her family has also taken a battering…. The grim irony at the heart of Farhadi's film is that the angst and perplexity are the fruit of a 'sacred' republic of ideals. Here is the signal failure of the ideological state that Ayatollah Khomeini set up 32 years ago, promising truth and redemption for all, but whose children are still waiting for these things, trembling and alone."

Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door: "Farhadi, who worked in theater for years before becoming a director (the first movie he directed was 2003's Dancing in the Dust), said he always rehearses with his actors for six or eight weeks before shooting, letting them use that time to discover their characters for themselves. 'I want whatever happened in me to cause the creation of that character to happen in the actor,' he said. Whatever he's doing, it clearly works."

At Hammer to Nail, Nelson Kim notes that "Sony Classics will release A Separation in the US in December, and it stands a fair chance of being the first Iranian movie to become a breakout indie hit here: it’s a rare and wonderful hybrid of art-film brain food and rousing, riveting entertainment — emotionally charged, furiously fast-paced, fiendishly intelligent."

More from Mark Asch (L), Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, C), Kiva Reardon (Cinema Scope), Nathaniel Rogers, Nick Schager (Slant, 3.5/4) and Scott Tobias (AV Club, A). Larry Rohter talks with Farhadi for the New York Times.

Update, 10/5: This is Farran Nehme's "film of the festival so far…. Farhadi doles out information scrap by scrap through a searching, subtle camera. The focus on the ethics of lying — whom it helps, whom it hurts — and a child's painful initiation into the world of adult deceit reminded the Siren of The Fallen Idol, one of her favorite films."

Update, 10/6: "Farhadi explores the theme of separation almost relentlessly, both visually (you cannot miss the infinite number of physical separators, from window panes to busy intersections) and narratively (arguably in a greater quantity of pivot points and elisions)," writes Jaime N Christley at Fandor. "What's most enjoyable about Farhadi's nimble construction is the way these two layers don't require a point-to-point, this-means-this interpretation, but exist as freely-spinning flywheels, a dodecahedron of perspectives and sympathies, eventually coming to rest on a moment that, crucially, involves the gentlest, but most implacable resistance to separation."

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