|“Nader and Simin, a Separation” – The Iranian Berlinale and the Morality of Mistake
by Anamaria Sandra
Asghar Farhadi, renowned director of Iran, has just become the day’s cinematographic icon – not only in the Middle East, but throughout Europe as well – and has great chances to expand this image further, as film festivals across the world are just preparing their entry lists. His latest release “Nader and Simin, a Separation” first met the screening canvas on the 9th of February 2011 at the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran. Here the film won four Crystal Simorghs, including Best Director, with an additional prize for the Audience Favourite Film.
No sooner than six days after the success in Tehran, “Nader and Simin” was screened in the 61st Berlin International Film Festival competition. Waves of auspicious criticism soon made Farhadi’s film one of the favourites, and in the end it won the Golden Bear. “Nader and Simin” entered the history as the first Iranian movie to receive the big prize at the Berlinale. Moreover, Farhadi’s cast won two other trophies: Silver Bears for Best Actor and Best Actress issued for the ensemble cast of the male and female actors.
Both film festivals that have played this movie by now gave honourable prizes from the juries. However, “Nader and Simin” had powerful effect on the public also. Like in Tehran, Farhadi’s drama won the viewer’s prize at the Berlinale (from the "Berliner Morgenpost" Readers Jury and the Ecumenical Jury).
So what makes this film so appealing? What makes it go to the heart of film experts? And why is it so approachable for the people too? Complexity and simplicity are hard to achieve on their own, so the art of making them come together is even more complicated.
First of all, watching it gives you the breath-taking experience of a thriller, even if the film is concentrated on a family drama. Furthermore, appealing to universal feelings is where Farhadi and his actors made the most out of their skills. Each and any of us are sensitive to family crisis, to the experience of guilt and trust, to the traditionalism vs. modernism conflict. On the other hand, the members of the juries considered “Nader and Simin” to be of unique value because it illustrates a realistic picture of today’s Iran society. So besides setting forth the human factor, the film expresses a social struggle, in the context of political tension.
As the director stated himself, “Nader and Simin” comes as the logical development after his previous “About Elly” and participates in Farhadi’s attempt to expose the Iranian society with its rights and wrongs. He succeeded in avoiding the Iranian government censorship by placing politics out of the picture. Only the premise is set on a political aspect: the wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to move abroad to find a better future for the daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s real life daughter). This wish leads to the couple’s divorce trial, yet the actual separation has many causes outside the political context.
The film still is critical of the conditions in Iran, and one of the main issues to be shown is class divide. The husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi, seen in About Elly) and his family are middle class, having a modern concept of life. This comes into conflict with the traditional views of a poorer family for which religion and honour are more important. Nader doesn’t want to leave the country with Simin and their daughter, because of his concern about his Alzheimer’s suffering father. Stubborn and proud, he lets Simin move back with her mother, and hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) - a poor and religious maid, wife of hot-tempered Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) - as a carer for his father.
A small incident with Razieh and Nader’s father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) – she ties him to the bed and leaves the apartment – gives way to a cascade of tense interactions between the two families. In no time, one family is pitted against another in a gripping legal struggle. Farhadi allows each of the main characters to make a mistake, because, he says, this is the only way for them to find a resolution.
From this point on, Farhadi’s mastery creates a tangled web where characters swing between honour and pride, morality and money, religion and ego. Even more, he succeeds in expressing an impartial image of the conflict, where each character might be right or wrong, and leaves – through ingenious editing – an open door for bafflement, letting the realistic performance of the actors to determine our opinion.
The court battle reveals the characters as fully-rounded, morally-complex human beings. Farhadi skilfully uses the space and staging to show either isolation or collaboration. While letting us walk and sit between the characters most of the time, he changes perspective only for the opening and closing scenes. Here we see through the judge’s eyes, and the torrent of feelings that invaded us throughout the film, changes to cold, unemotional assessment.
All in all, with the subtle exploration of human psychology in general along with Iranian society’s gap between conservatism and modernism in particular, “Nader and Simin, a Separation” gives you two hours of captivating and intriguing fast paced tense action.