A Separation

22 March 2012 | 2:55 pm | Ian Barr

One of the most universally acclaimed films of recent years, A Separation comes belatedly to Australian screens with an intimidating amount of hype for a low-key chamber drama from Iran, not the least being its two Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film (likely a winner by the time you're reading this) and Best Original Screenplay. That the latter nomination is a rarity for non-English language films speaks to the film's greatest virtue; it's a film of uncommon tautness and moral complexity, and grips you like a vice even when the threat of violence is only tangential to the story.

As such, you're best going in blind for its twists and turns to take full effect. The film's titular separation takes place in the first scene, as Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) sit in divorce court, talking over each other; she wants to leave the country with their 11 year old, he wants to stay and take care of his Alzheimer's-ridden father. Simin sees it as grounds for a divorce, but the judge declines.

Separations of a less tangible nature dominate the story, most obviously those between the wills of Iranian citizens and their oppressive society, particularly the stranglehold of the law and religious beliefs. But it's the separations between people acting out of self-interest that gives the film such overwhelming universal resonance. With seeming effortlessness, writer/director Asghar Farhadi makes the actions of each character – however unfortunate – seem completely understandable, and his cast are uniformly up to the heights he sets for them. Films this dramatically juicy are a rare breed – don't dare miss it.