A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

What's it about? An Iranian drama about Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), a couple who have been driven apart after 14 years of marriage because Simin wants to leave the country for the benefit of their 11-year old daughter, whereas Nader insists they must remain in Iran to care for his elderly father. Frustrated by the situation, Simin threatens divorce and moves out of their home to stay with her parents, a separation which has far-reaching consequences.

Is it any good? Excellent. An utterly engrossing drama, quite beautifully acted by the ensemble cast. From the very first scene, in which Simin and Nader plead their cases direct-to-camera, we are drawn into a compassionate drama about family, relationships and responsibility, in which we are skilfully invited to empathise with every character. You may not agree with their actions, but you will understand completely why they do what they do, making for a thoughtful, morally complex affair. For Western audiences, there's insight and symbolism about the political and cultural divides that exist in contemporary Iran, where religion, class and gender still all play important roles in modern society and, crucially, in the laws of the country. All of this adds depth and authenticity to the story, but the real strength of the film is that you need know nothing of these things to be fully involved. At heart, it is 'just' a human story which is at once simple and complex, in which there are no right or wrong answers, just flawed, believable characters in a messy, sad situation. And the whole thing is more gripping than a hundred conventional thrillers. If you're not engaged and impressed with this, you really are separated from reality.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Laden down with awards since its release, including the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Oscars, as well as achieving the coveted 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Everybody praised it and pretty much every critic worth their salt placed it in their Top 10 Movies of 2011. Except me, to my eternal shame, because I hadn't seen it. But it would have been a shoo-in at number 1 if I had.

Anything else I should know? As you might expect, film-making in Iran is not always plain sailing, especially when your films challenge the status quo. In interviews here and here, director Farhadi tells of some of the challenges involved and explains why he insists on continuing to work in Iran regardless.

What does the Fonz think? So Friday night, what DVD to rent? How about a subtitled, Iranian drama about a marriage break-up? Try it. You might be surprised.

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