A Separation is an award winning film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. It was recently picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for distribution in the US and is set to be the first Iranian film to gain a substantial US audience. The story concerns a married couple on the verge of divorce. Simin wants to leave Tehran in order to provide her daughter with a better life, but her husband, Nader, refuses to abandon his Alzheimer’s afflicted father. The couple separates as a result of their differences, and Nader is forced to hire the pregnant Razieh to take care of his father while he is at work. One thing leads to another, and Razieh ends up losing her child after a scruffle with Nader. What ensues is a socially and morally complex narrative that is sure to resonate with many audiences.
Asghar Farhadi’s Golden Globe acceptance speech:
“When I was coming up on the stage, I was thinking what should I say here. Should I say something about my mother, father, my kind wife, my daughters, my dear friends, my great and lovely crew? But now I just prefer to say something about my people. I think they are a truly peace-loving people. Thank you very much.”
Although the film does not play a role in nation-building in the sense that it does not promote a dominant state ideology, I think it has, to an extent, played a role in reshaping Iran’s national image. It depicts Iran as a developing country, not a backwards society as some people might like to believe. Furthermore, I think the film’s portrayal of class, religious, and judicial tensions are just some of the many ways that the film can serve as a platform for productive discussions about modern Iranian society, just as television serials were able to spur discussions about Egyptian society in Abu-Lughod’s book. The movie explores these ideas in a very subtle way, which is perhaps how it was able to pass state censorship. Censorship in Iran, as it is in Egypt, is aimed at protecting the public from what the state considers morally, politically, or religiously offensive material. Movies usually have a bit more flexibility when it comes to censorship, but A Separation did not pass the censors without a few bumps along the way. For example, when asked if there were any scenes that were particularly controversial, Farhadi replied: “When the [Iranian] government gave me access for showing this, I didn’t have any problems. But a few months later, I read something from them, and they found something they didn’t like. We were already gone, so we were lucky.” The scenes that Farhadi refers to are both of Simin and Nader at the courthouse in the process of getting a divorce. In addition, the film experienced a short ban in Iran after Farhadi spoke out in support of a few exiled filmmakers. As seen, A Separation‘s narrative and circulation might raise a few potentially productive questions about the tensions within urban Iranian society and government control over media.
Here’s an interview of the director talking a bit more about censorship for those interested.