Good acting, good filming, awful story

Farhadi's "A Separation"


Good acting, good filming, awful story
by bahmani

Apparently even in the boundless space that film provides, Iranian filmmakers cannot separate from horrible reality. Apparently we cannot even drift away and experience even a smidgeon of joy or god forbid laughter. Even in film. In Iranian film, apparently George Lucas or just the 6 or 7 Iranians that work at Industrial Light and Magic do not exist.

We are apparently condemned to films that express reality and then we are forced to sit in the dark and watch as our reality once again tears off the barely damp scabs, to open the wound anew. A wound that doesn't even bleed anymore. It just stings. A lot.

This is honestly how I felt watching "A Separation". A film that is reaping award after award as it soars across Europe on it's way to Hollywood, where the Oscar buzz is most certainly buzzing.

After you acknowledge that the film is a dramatic extension of the recent documentary "Divorce Iranian Style" by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini, which is actually more interesting, even funny and altogether more enjoyable to watch than the sheer dread and fear you get in the pit of your stomach sitting through "A Separation". Mind you, you paid to witness this, and bought popcorn (very bad idea) and everything.

To be fair, and to justify what I hope is a solid win in the category at the Oscar's this time, "A Separation" is a very well made, even better acted film. About the process and tribulation of one Iranian family enduring a tragic separation and break up. Toss in the always reliable Alzheimers stricken parent, and you're sadly good to go.

There was a slight salaciously sexy hook that I think could have sold the plot better had the story been more hope-filled and less depressing. But in combination with the latter, and considering the consequences, that pretty much turns you off from that fantasy. And honestly, in the sanctum and realm of fantasy that a movie-house is supposed to offer a cold and weary traveler, who, seriously who needs that? Especially Iranians do!

Led by an exceptional cast all around, but primarily the dynamic between Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi, the film is also Written, Directed, and Produced by Asghar Farhadi, no slouch when it comes to winning Eastern European film festivals with super sad well-made Iranian stories. Here are some of Farhadi's best-worst stories he has brought to film:

2003 - "Dancing in the Dust", a film about a recent divorcee with a prostitute mom who tries to pay back the loan he took out for the failed wedding.

2004 - "The Beautiful City", a film about a sixteen year old boy convicted of murder, who is held until he is 18, so he can be executed. A fellow prisoner who is freed, tries to stop the execution.

2006 - "Fireworks Wednesday", a film about 3 marriages in torment at once, interwoven with each other. Think "Crash", for yet more doomed Iranian marriages.

2009 - "About Elly", a film about 3 families on vacation, who take their single friend "Elly" to meet and hopefully get set up with a recently divorced friend. After a close call of an almost drowning, Elly goes missing. Hey at least there isn't a "doomed marriage" in this one!

Which pretty much gives you an idea of the emotional roller coaster ride bent into "A Separation". Nothing but nothing drives harder and harder, drills deeper and deeper, over and over and over again, in to the deepest recesses of the blissfully blind Iranian mind, than an Iranian filmmaker obsessed with one sad thematic idea. No?

"A Separation" and all of Farhadi's films are shot extremely well, color, lighting, and in this film the music by Sattar Oraki is well chosen. And the timing, which as you can see in this article, is a very hard thing to get right.

I can't even spoil the film for you, because like all films of this "Genre" and like the other of Farhadi's, they are of course spoiler-proof. In that there is no obvious stated conclusion. The hero may either live or die, or lose or win, we'll just never know. Which makes the exclamation point in Farhadi's films even sadder and entirely un-uplifting.

Farhadi is a pretty damn good filmmaker. I only wish the stories he chose were more, well - happy. For once I would like to see an Iranian film that runs on laughter, works out tests and trials from adversity through to happiness, and ends by revolving around sheer joy. Is this too much to ask for? I thought you go to hell when you die, not while you are still alive on Earth! I'm not asking for a far out unrealistic heaven scene with an Iranian dancing around naked and happy in it, but Jesus or Mohammad if this is all we are going to get, one of you please come take me now!

I wonder if this may be why we don't actually get to experience much joy as Iranians. Maybe we are the ones living on-screen in the movies? And our lot is actually a plot written about the real life that we think is one of Farhadi's films.

OK, I'm depressing myself now.

So here's le coup de grace de le palme d'or and Oscar this film is likely going to win. You WILL go see this film because you simply HAVE to see it (dahling!) when it wins a bunch of awards. But you will hate the story the whole time you are sitting in the dark trying not to squirm. You will then, in the lobby, afterwards, try to discuss it with your non-Iranian film buff friends who now think they know a little bit more about you, and Iran. You will feel sick to your stomach, you will try to out-rationalize that Iranian society is not as it was reflected in this film, shown in the West.

But you will not succeed in convincing anyone that Iranians are in fact frequently quite hilarious. Because you will be too sad.

Take a Dramamine. Don't get popcorn.


more from bahmani

Happy ending or comedy?

by choghok on

As someone else mentioned here there are happy endings in many Iranian movies like children of heaven and taste of cherry and even some of the kiarostami movies.

Comedy break taboos and surprises like Marmoolak and we see why there are not many films like Marmoolak, censors do not like breaking taboos and surprises, in Iran everything is perfect according to IRI and perfect thing are well not funny. Maxx had some funny scenes but still not a good comedy.

The worst film of Iranian cinema "ekhrajiha" is seen funny by many but I can not for one second find one single scene funny. It is plain stupid with humor that is not even funny for children programs. There are many other crappy comedies being made in Iran, but Marmoolak is something else. 

Esfand Aashena

بهمنی آخه مگه مجبوری مزخرف بنویسی‌؟

Esfand Aashena

You want happy endings?  Really?  Is that your point?  Are we ever going to see happy endings in Iranian movies?

You have never seen a happy ending in Iranian movies?  The movie Children of Heaven's happy ending (which was an Oscar nominee in 1997) wasn't happy enough for you?


Everything is sacred


Reply to Choghok

by bahmani on

Certainly Iranian cinema apparently is not filled with happy endings.

All I'm asking is, are we ever going to have one?

As I said, I a sure this film will do well in the festival and Oscar rounds, I'm just asking will we ever get a film made that doesn't make you want to kill yourself afterwards?

Maybe that is the goal.

What I fail to accept is that on the one hand we have the amazing Iranian sense of humor, and apparently that has not met the other hand which makes Iranian films.

I think that sucks, and were the two to ever collaborate I thin we would do far more to critique current society than playing an exact copy of what happens daily in Iran and call it a dramatic film.

This is a rip off of the documentary, and as a mirror of Iranian society is nothing more than a single episode 2 hour realty show.

I just want to see a well made funny Iranian movie. Sorry if that makes people upset.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //


Reply to incognito

by bahmani on

I agree, Separation is not a fun filled popcorn eating movie.

My question is, when will we deserve to see one of those kinds of movies instead of the constant depressing sad sob stories?

Do we never deserve happiness? Not even in film? Can we never escape the drab and dreary, not even in film?

Even if it costs the same amount of energy and money to make a fun happy hope filled optimistic and funny film?

My question is do we only deserve to see sad stuff?

To read more bahmani posts visit: //


Reply to Aynak

by bahmani on

Your assumption and suggestion that I want someone to make a funny movie about separation is absurd. Of course that is not a funny subject.

What I find interesting and sadder still, is that with all the misery Iranians have to deal with in daily life, you would think that they would attempt to escape it in the very boundless medium of film.

But no, it seems we are trapped in art as well as life, and no one can think to make a film about a topic of happiness and the suggestion that an Iranian filmmaker make an uplifting and optimistic or god forbid happy film to counter the pessimism, and unhappiness, is heresy.

From your comment it is obvious that you too seem to prefer sadness to happiness, even if costs the same.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //

Anahid Hojjati

when the artist in poetry, movies, etc

by Anahid Hojjati on

does not judge and just presents, you could say that he/she leaves it to audience judgement but many times, they might not have any coherent idea to present either, so they say that we leave it to reader's, watcher (audience) judgement. My question is if Iranian movies are so great, what has their roles in Iranian society been in past thirty years? besides winning awards, has any Iranian movie achieved something significant in society? I would like to read examples of that. 

Even people living in Diaspora could be making movies and help with awareness. I remember in early 1980s (or at the latest mid 1980s) I watched movie that talked avout disappearances in Argentine. Another example are movies about Chile that we were able to watch in Iran in late 1970s and showed the course of events in early 1970s in Chile. do we have an equivalent Iranian movie? to show the divorce in Iran or young kids in poverty in Iran, everyone has seen that except the very privileged who never got to see poverty in Iran so they get excited when a movies depicts that.

If some of the commentators ever spent time with poor people in Iran or any other country for that matter, they would not get excited over a movie that showed a happy ending for a poor family.


There is something to say about Iran Cinema

by Kooshan on

There is lot of education in Iranian movies.Sometimes it is way over my comfort zone.

The directors also try not to be judgemental about characters and leave it to audience interpretations - Something that is in full contradictions with societal norms!

Anahid Hojjati

I hope certain commentators reached their goal

by Anahid Hojjati on

to tell others that no Iranian is allowed to prefer non depressing movies.


A Separation

by incognito on

I agree with you that ‘A Separation’ is not for popcorn
munching moviegoers. Nor is it made for escapists seeking a shallow fantasy on the silver screen to lose themselves – and their troubles - in.  As you pointed out it does not offer an unqualified “hope” or a “happy” ending to those looking for an “obvious stated conclusion.”

‘A Separation’ is more an account of the daily life in contemporary
Iran, than a good-versus-evil tranquilizer for the Diaspora. It is an
uncertified copy of the still life Tehran megapolis is nowadays, where dwellers
negotiate their way not only in the jammed street traffic but also in their
overwhelmingly congested inter-relationships. And, the price they pay – a
marriage broken or a pregnancy aborted – is just a metaphor for the growing
pain such a society suffers coming to term with its torn asunder self.  

For this beholder, the beauty of ‘A Separation’ is in its non-judgmental portrayal of the complexities of human experience, where hardly
any witness is untainted by expediency. To me this is the Iranian film closest
to Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Rashomon.

BTW, if I were you, I would have welcomed discussing this film “with your non-Iranian film buff friends who now think they know a little bit more about you, and Iran.” The subject is light years away from the one-dimensional caricature of us the Western media feeds your friends without respite.


Well said Aynak

by آشنا on

... and thank you Choghok.

Anahid Hojjati


by Anahid Hojjati on

the line that i quoted is from the movie trailer mentioned in mr. kadivar's comment. it is not from "a separation" that article is about.



by choghok on

Hi, Where was the quote line said in the movie? I just ask sine I do not remember, thanks.

The sentence itself sounds like normal conversation, but maybe the context is different. 


@Bahmani you should stop watching too many Hollywood movies

by choghok on

The cinema is not just Hollywood or Bollywood movies where everything happens to rich and beautiful people and in the end it turns out OK.

Good movies are the ones that make you think and this one really does so. Art has different effect on different people you could read a poem and be touhed by it but it does not mean that other people will be touched the same way. If the movie makes you feel depressed that says something about you. It is not a comedy yes, but I would not call it depressing.

Another person here mentioned Marmoolak and Max, well Marmoolak is a good movie too, but still miles away from this movie.

And the movies that have poor children and so on maybe saddens some people because they feel superior and think down on poor people, but Ending of a movie like children of heaven showed happy children in a happy family. They are much better of than a miserable rich family in LA. And that puts a smile on my face wider than when watching Maxx. 

Anahid Hojjati

Dear Darius, Indeed, this one

by Anahid Hojjati on

looks very depressing. I have to quantify that I have seen some Iranian movies with sad story lines that I liked. For instance couple of "Tahmineh Milani"'s movies from more than 10 years ago, I believe "doo zan" and "Nime deegar". Those  stories resonated with me and her movies seemed realistic. But movies like this one with lines such as "boroo khoda ro shokr kon, een bache ast ke be zengegeet ronagh meedeh", and this style of talking that many Iranian movies have in which it sounds that many men talk laati, etc. Not good.

Darius Kadivar

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet: Go see Takmil Homayoun's "Tehroon"

by Darius Kadivar on

Teheran - Bandes Annonces [Movie Trailer]


Now THAT's Not Just Depressing

It makes You wanna Kill yourself, The Cinema Manager and everyone in the audience too 



Anahid Hojjati

I don't care for depressing Iranian or non-Iranian movies either

by Anahid Hojjati on

I agree with this review because I find most Iranian movies depressing. Unlike my American friends, I don't get excited about the little poor girl finding her ball, fish, etc. I know the misery some people in Iran face and don't need to see it on theatre. Breakup stories are usually depressing and are hardly ever done as well as Kramer vs. Kramer.

Time for another Maxx or Marmoolak. By the way I did not watch Titanic, schindler and many other non-Iranian depressing movies either. These movies are not only depressing but you know the ending beforehand, not a winning combination.


When it comes to art

by aynak on

unlike science, there is no measuring stick to evaluate/validate a piece.  And that is stating the obvious.   The most important quality of any art form in my view, is the sense and emotion it stimulates or provokes.   By that token when I critique a piece of art work, what I really intend to do is to share the impression it left on me.   That's why writing a critique of a critique is *usually* pointless.   How can I tell someone to feel or get a different impression when the one they came up with is different than mine?

In this case however, Bruce is more confused, than anything, so I take it upon myself  to break my rule of not being critical of someones review. \

As an avid film watcher, I have a basic rule:  Try to go into a film with as little information as possible. (so for instance I try to avoid reading reviews) .   Being an opiniated person, I do not want mine to be tarnished by someone elses prejudices.

I do of course want to know a little bit to adjust my timing of movie watching with my mood.   For instance, who wants to go to a romantic dinner by going to a film about starving kids in Africa first?

Luckily, most of the time,  in the trailers or sometimes in the film title itself there is enough hints to avoid this undesirable situation.

In the case of this film, the title should have given it out to Bruce already, this is a story of *separation*.   Already  my mind is set thinking Kramer vs Kramer.    Would I then, want to see this film when I am not exactly in that frame of mind to appreciate such a film?

May be Bruce can see some funny stuff in divorce and for sure the movie industry has tried to create some type of humor from even the saddest and darkest situations, but in reality, if one has had to deal with a terminally ill parent and going through a divorce, and having to do what is best for his/her kid in reality, how many people can find humor in their own life in that?

In addition, and the whole premise of this film is in the afterath of the 1388 coup.  In Iran's contemporary history, periods after big defeat of masses (like after 1953) is intertwined with dark/sad/somber views from artists, in terms of poetry/writing/films/music/paintings .....

If the film is showing something exteremly heavy, it is because it reflects the sad reality of the lose-lose situation that the entire country has been in, with little glimor of hope.

But speaking of fun and humor, the release of this film Bruce, coincided with the release of another film "Ekhrajee Hay 3" (Expelled 3).   That film actually was received very well at the box office, even inspite of boycott by many who saw it as cheap humor by regime post 1388 coup.   It may be exactly what you are looking for:

A "funny" story of those going to 8 year war, that took hundreds of thousands of lives for no comprehendable reason.   I wonder though if Islamic Regime would have allowed for creation of these "Expell" series  and being in such festive mode, had the U.S not overthrown saddam regime and the ultimate result of that conflict was not known?

Perhaps with films like Separation of Nader and Simin, the fact that none of the underlying issues have been resolved, makes making a humorous film, impossible if not just absurd.