Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation”, Comfortably the Film of the Year

Farhadi's "A Separation"

Iran’s A Sep­a­ra­tion has just cleaned up at this year’s Asian Film Awards. Before which it had won both the Acad­e­my Award and the Gold­en Globe for Best for­eign-lan­guage film. And last year it sim­i­lar­ly tri­umphed at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val where it first sur­faced. So there you are then. Some­times good guys do come first.

This is Farhadi’s fifth film, but his first to break through inter­na­tion­al­ly. Before which he’d worked exten­sive­ly in the­atre. So it’s unsur­pris­ing to hear him site Ing­mar Bergman as a key influ­ence in the inter­view he gives on the dvd extras, and to hear him allud­ing to Scenes From A Mar­riage from 1973. Impres­sive­ly, it’s a com­par­i­son that A Sep­a­ra­tion com­fort­ably merits.

Accord­ing to Jan Fleis­ch­er, the Nation­al Film School’s script guru in Lon­don, a well told sto­ry needs to move through five dis­tinct phas­es: Expo­si­tion, where we are intro­duced to the var­i­ous ele­ments of the sto­ry, Con­flict, Cri­sis, Cat­a­stro­phe, and final­ly Cathar­sis, as the sto­ry is brought to a defin­i­tive end.

This film illus­trates that dynam­ic pro­gres­sion bril­liant­ly. Indeed, it’s a long time since I’ve seen quite so much plot shoe­horned into to a sin­gle sto­ry. Prac­ti­cal­ly every scene turns, as yet more twists are revealed and yet anoth­er sur­prise is unveiled. Which might have proved prob­lem­at­ic, were it not all han­dled so very deft­ly, and in such a sub­tle, nuanced and all too believ­able way.

It’s a foot per­fect real­i­sa­tion of Strind­berg’s famous wish to see a dra­ma per­formed as if in front of a fourth wall. So seam­less and con­fi­dent are the per­for­mances and the direc­tion here, that you find your­self perched for­ev­er on the edge of your seat, watch­ing as two fam­i­lies descend into all too avoid­able tragedy.

Robert McK­ee main­tains that the rea­son that Bergman is one of the most impor­tant film mak­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry is because he was one of its great­est scriptwrit­ers. A Sep­a­ra­tion strong­ly sug­gests that Asghar Farha­di has con­fi­dent­ly tak­en up that mantle.

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