When the Motion Picture Academy this year gave its Best Foreign-Language Film prize to A Separation — the first Iranian feature to win an Oscar — skeptics might have seen the award as a political statement. At a time when Iran was under rhetorical fire from the Israeli government and Republican presidential candidates, the liberal Academy members were offering an Oscar as an olive branch. What’s more likely is that the voters were endorsing the complexities of Asghar Farhadi’s fascinating drama. Beginning with a married woman’s plea for divorce, it escalates into a culture war on many fronts: secular vs. religious, urban vs. rural, middle class vs. working class. In this battle, the collateral damage may be the children — and sometimes the truth.
In a Tehran court, Simin (Leila Hatami) wants a divorce from Nader (Peyman Moadi) so she can take their daughter to live abroad; Nader says he must stay home to care for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. When Simin moves in with her parents while awaiting the judge’s ruling, she and Nader hire Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout woman whose husband is in debtor’s prison. Soon one life is imperiled, another lost, in actions stemming from the characters’ plausible, even noble motives. A master twister of plots and personalities, Farhadi gets exemplary performances from his ensemble cast, notably the redheaded Hatami and the saintly, volcanic Bayat. Every cramped or conflicted emotion plays luminously across Bayat’s face — a soul crying for God’s liberating help — in a drama that spans continents and cultures to connect with moviegoers in the Motion Picture Academy and beyond.
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