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Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is a compelling drama about a marriage breaking apart. Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband Nader and daughter Termeh to seek greener pastures but Nader refuses as he has to care for his ailing father.

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Right from the onset, viewers are made to decide whose side they want to be on and this is constantly played out throughout the film. A camera is fixed in the opening sequence where both Simin and Nader are in a family court to settle a divorce. As they present their cases, I felt like an unseen judge who had to choose who presented a better case before delivering my verdict. Inevitably, my stance teetered between characters as the film progressed. Equally important to both central characters were Termeh, Hodjat and Razieh who had to withstand the ripples set off by their domestic squabbles and are similarly bruised by it.

Heart-tugging and strangely exhaustive, A Separation deals with religious divisions within Islam, where women are secondary to their husbands and filial piety takes precedence over all else. This ties in with how women are oppressed in Iran as they face limited choices. Although Simin does not reveal why she wants to leave Iran, it becomes clear that she views her homeland as one with few opportunities to scale up the corporate ladder.

More than that, however, is a plunge right into Tehran and Iranians living there. The Western media may have propagated a war towards Ahmadinejad’s regime (at the time this film was made) by painting them to be intolerant extremists, but what we see instead are ordinary Iranians struggling with issues that we on our own face. Hopeless love, diverse dreams and an individual’s struggle against society resonate and break away from other Iranian films that depict Iran in a restrictive light (Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi).

Drawing on my personal experiences while combining them with what I have witnessed in this film, I created a visual feature that psychologically depicts Nader’s relationship with his wife and daughter. Accompanying this is a 2 stanza poem that encapsulates my take on what separation is.

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 A haunting melody echoes from deep

Rocked silent by our dreams

Tonight marks our last retreat

Where memories dissolve at the seams

Slowly I awake to embrace anew

Knowing where we once stood in time

Vows made were never too few

But now I have to leave them all behind

 Placing Nader at the forefront of this image, juxtaposed to his daughter and wife, represents a husband’s dominant role in a Muslim family. He is considered the “man of the house”, acting as the protector, provider and supporter. The Holy Qur’an (4:34) affirms this by stating that “Men shall take full care of women with the bounties which Allah has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions….”, implying that Nader, as a Muslim man, has been inherently equipped with the abilities to support his family financially, emotionally and mentally.

 However, basing it on the direction that A Separation veers towards, Nader is now caged in his own shortcomings as he is resigned to accept his wife’s decision of pursuing her own goals while having to forsake bringing up Termeh within the confines of a comfortable domestic household. A haunting illusory of both female figures blights Nader’s battle and constant psychological struggle as he proceeds on with life.  Termeh is caught in between Nader and Simin, serving as a unifying remnant of a marriage that harbors on breaking apart.

The poem above is a complimentary detail to the idea of moving apart from a loved one. Personally, I feel that it represents a distressing emotional baggage that we lug along for the rest of our lives. Circumstances may propel us to say goodbye, but what appears mystifyingly daunting are the scars that continue playing circles within our heads. Visions that once played out now plague us instead as we are left to mere powerless figures, slowly accepting that two souls who once yearned to exist together can no longer do so.

About the Author:

Haikal is an aspiring writer who enjoys reading graphic novels and takes a keen interest in concept art.

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