A Separation

 

THROUGHOUT ITS rise over the past few decades, Iranian cinema has gained a reputation for visual austerity and elliptical storytelling.

The films of masters such as Abbas Kiarostami and Bahman Ghobadi press viewers into new ways of thinking about the medium.

Asghar Farhadi’s gripping, slippery A Separation, winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, demonstrates that other less avant-garde strains continue to thrive in Iran. Mahmoud Kalari, cinematographer on Kiarostami classics such as The Wind Will Carry Us, continues to move his hand-held camera with graceful urgency. The acting is as poignantly naturalistic as ever. Everyday street life bustles its way into the action.

A Separationis, however, driven by a strong, endlessly twisty narrative. Examining the pressures that assail a recently separated married couple, the film does invite superficial parallels with Kramer vs Kramer. But this is a much richer, more subtle beast than that blubby entertainment.

The film begins with a legal hearing convened to decide the fate of the principals’ marriage. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave the country so that her daughter can avail of greater freedoms. Nader (Peyman Moadi), a bank employee, is stubbornly opposed to the idea. Aside from anything else, he needs to care for his elderly father, who has Alzheimer’s. The dilemma is characteristic of a film that – while making nods towards the inhibited status of women in Iranian society – always allows balance into the argument.

At any rate, Nader wins custody of his daughter and begins the tricky business of managing a troubled family while holding down a job. He hires a nervous, religiously devout woman to care for his dad, but, within weeks, a serious incident occurs and he is forced to sack her.

It would be wrong to say more. As well as working through various marital skirmishes,

A Separationfinds time to poke its fingers into a mystery that requires viewers to question what they have seen, what they have heard and what assumptions they may have made.

The end result is a thoughtful film that also works as a cracking melodrama.