Separation is a 2011 Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, who was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time magazine in 2012. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and became the first Iranian film to win the award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, with Fahadi invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition to several other international awards, Separation won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.[tag]
It's too bad few Americans, and especially, our elected officials, watch foreign films. Although not many theaters show foreign films, most are available on Netflix, which by the fourth quarter of 2013, had 33.1 million U.S. subscribers. Watching Separation, Americans would become conscious of the gap between the official presentation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the daily lives of its citizens, those the government of the US claims to be concerned about when it is not worrying about Iran's 'threat to the stability of the Middle East'.
What easily stands out as uniquely disturbing in this film is the chador that covers the heads of every female in sight, including kindergarteners. The drama hinges on the reluctance on the part of a lower-class married woman to be discovered cleaning the genitals of an old man afflicted with Alzheimer's who wets himself. Before undertaking the chore for which she was hired, the woman feels compelled to call a religious hot-line to ask if the act will be considered sinful. Above all, her husband must not know.
In counterpoint to the religious drama is the quintessentially modern dilemma of populations living longer, and hence with incurable illnesses, is what sparks the film's conflict: a thirtyish professional couple is split over the wife's determination to leave the country, while the husband refuses to abandon his sick father to the care of an institution.
Much of the drama resulting from religious strictures is played out in hearings in front of a shirt-sleeved judge in a room crowded with other judges and their supplicants. Here, no religious overlay, simply, the law and its implications: will the bank clerk go to jail for refusing to post bail when accused of causing the death of his employee's unborn child?
The scenes in hospitals and courts are reminiscent of 1950's Italy, as is the level of hysteria on the part of the two husbands, one a cobbler acutely aware of his social status, the other an educated prick whose sense of filial duty is not matched by strict adherence to the truth.
The apartment of the professional couple sports every modern convenience, including a large, colored refrigerator, and the streets are clogged with cars and motorcycles, however conspicuously missing are women in Western dress defying the basij, or moral police, whose job is to fine them if they dare to abandon the chador. It would appear that the film's funders chose to present a flawless image of compliance.
Separation tells a humdrum story, however its ending is highly original. The separated parents of an eleven year old girl are left waiting for her answer to the judge's question as to who she chooses to live with. It's the same civilian judge who handled to accusation of murder against the unborn child, by the way, suggesting that the Iranian judicial system is a lot less structured when it comes to secular law than what religious rule appears to be, but it's the fact that an eleven-year old is given a choice, as she would in the West, that is most interesting. I don't know what reception a film that contrasts the lives of educated urban couples with the absurd realities imposed by a religious regime received in Iran, but the fact that it was entered into international competitions is telling.
Obviously, the film does not offer any insight into the 'true nature' of that religious regime from an international perspective, such as whether the Ayatollahs want to build a nuclear military capability, but it does suggest that Iranians face the same problems as the rest of the developed world, which they confront in similar psychological fashion, notwithstanding thirty-five years of religious dictatorship.
In this week's 'Crosstalk' on the infamous yet ridiculous letter from forty-seven Republican senators to Iran's supreme ruler, RT's Peter Lavelle accuses the US of referring to Iranians, as 'those people', seeing it as a sign of racism. I continue to wonder why not even progressive intellectuals emphasize that US policy is not a question of racism, but of the opposing political orientations of Shiites and Sunnis. Even Lavelle's guest Hillary Mann Leverett, who teaches at the American University's School of International Service and is an expert on Iran, failed to do this. I have long been convinced http://otherjonesii.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-us-chooses-capitalist-muslims.html that U.S. Middle East policy makes perfect sense if the right/left matrix is applied: we support unconditionally all rulers everywhere who are pro-capitalist, and we oppose all those who, whether in civilian, military or religious garb, are trying to build social-democratic systems. Period.