Kramer vs. Kramer goes Iranian with Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a late 2011 entry that's been deservedly racking up almost every "Best Foreign Language" film award that has been dished out this season.
But A Separation is much than a tale of a man and woman in love whose marital path has come to a fork in the road; it is a dissection of modern morality, both religious and secular, and how impossible it is to live a totally principled life if you're stuck interacting with other Homo sapiens. Or, to get a little Socratic, "A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true."
The picture begins in court with divorce proceedings. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran to afford her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) a more preferable future than her patriarchal homeland can provide. Nader (Peyman Moadi), her spouse, rejects immigration for two reasons. First, he refuses to leave behind his aging father who's suffering from Alzheimer's.
Simin: Does he even realize you are his son?
Nader: I know he is my father!
Nader also argues Termeh can get a proper education in the country where she belongs. The court agrees and rejects Simin's arguments, yet she decides, nonetheless, to move out of her home alone after Termeh sides with her father.
Before she departs, Simin hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a highly religious wife and mother of a young girl, as a caretaker for grandpa. Simple? Not at all.
What follows are secrets and lies, leading to more secrets and lies, and then a theft, a shove, a possible charge of murder, and the disposal of the integrity of everyone involved, even if it is at times just an iota of a loss. But those iotas can add up.
The emotional oscillations that pulsate through A Separation -- with its tangle of unfulfilled needs, sliding values, unspoken desires, male posturing, and feminist dilemmas -- are as thrilling as the antics in any Hitchcockian thriller. Yet no one is a total villain here, just as there is also no unqualified hero, except maybe for the two children. The once-innocent girls, to their disbelief, have suddenly discovered a game they don't want to partake of: adulthood. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Gay Identity in Literature" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).