Dishonor Codes

‘A Separation’

Watching the superlative Iranian film A Separation, I was reminded of Bleak House, Dickens’s account of a dispute grinding through the wheels of justice and dragging down all involved except those who abandon legal maneuvering to settle matters on a compassionate, person-to-person basis. All this is on display in Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning movie, but with one crucial difference: Dickens indicts the legal system itself, while Farhadi’s script makes it clear that it’s not the court that prolongs the personal-injury case at the center of A Separation, but rather the stiff-necked pride and rancor of accusers and accused. A Separation does have political implications, but it is mainly about extrapolitical frustrations and resentments. When apologists for Iran’s theocratic government denounce A Separation, what are they protesting? Fallible humanity?

Nader, a bank employee, has separated from his wife, Simin, because she wants to leave the country while he insists on remaining to care for his father, who has Alzheimer’s. He hires as caretaker Razieh—working-class, pious, and pregnant—who doesn’t want her recently fired, fiercely proud husband to learn that she’s taken a job. When a prenatal emergency forces her to temporarily abandon her charge so that she can see her obstetrician, the old man falls out of bed and loses consciousness. Enraged, Nader fires Razieh and pushes her...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.