The award-winning A Separation and the humanity of the Iranian people
By David Walsh
It is not often we devote a perspective to a film, or any art work. However, the combination of the context in which it appears and its own merits makes A Separation, by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, worth acknowledging in this manner. It is a film with a good deal to say, and the present situation gives the work a special poignancy and relevance.
The United States government
and military-intelligence apparatus, in complicity with
the Israeli regime and allies in
Europe, is relentlessly driving
toward military action against
Iran. The pretext is the Iranian
Such a war would mean unspeakable
suffering for the Iranian
population and the people
of the region. It would have potentially
calamitous global consequences
as well, including
for Israelis, Americans and Europeans.
With machinelike regularity,
President Barack Obama, Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton
and Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta make unsubstantiated
claims about Iranian nuclear
ambitions as though we had not
experienced countless US government
and mass media lies
about Iraqi "weapons of mass
destruction" in the run-up to the
invasion of March 2003.
Will the world repeat this
horrific experience in Iran, on
an even more devastating scale?
Americans are bombarded
almost daily with reports of
Iran's evil-doing: its "threats"
against the US and Israel, its
support for terrorism, its aggressive
geopolitical ambitions. The
Iranian people themselves, except
when it serves propaganda
purposes, i.e., in relation to the
upper-middle-class Green opposition
movement, are presented
as alien, hostile, virtually
subhuman creatures, driven by
religious fanaticism and irrational
hatred of Americans.
A Separation provides one of
the few glimpses that Americans
and others in the West will have into the reality of Iranian
life. The film is direct and honest,
unlike most products of the
US movie industry. The critic
for the New Republic was
obliged to admit that American
films on the same general subject
matter "are airy, pretty and
affluent" compared with
The central problems in A
Separation are deeply human,
and thoroughly believable. A
middle-class couple in Tehran
is on the verge of breaking up.
The wife, Simin, wants to leave
Iran and take her daughter with
her. Her husband, Nader, feels
obliged to stay and continue
caring for his Alzheimer'sstricken
father. When Simin
tells Nader that his father
doesn't even know him any
more, he replies, "But I know
he is my father."
When his wife leaves to stay
with her mother, Nader hires a
devoutly religious, working
class woman, Razieh, to look
after his father. Razieh is pregnant.
Her hot-headed husband,
Hodjat, is out of work and
creditors are hounding him.
Forced by her condition to
leave Nader's apartment during
the course of the day and visit a
doctor, she ties the demented
elderly man to his bed. On coming
home, Nader is enraged by
his father's condition. An altercation
occurs when Razieh returns,
and Nader throws her out
of the house. The next thing we
know, she is in the hospital,
having miscarried. She and her
husband accuse him of causing
the death of the baby, by pushing
her down a flight of stairs.
As the story unfolds, the almost
bearing down on every character,
including the children,
make themselves felt. Changing
what must be changed, the
drama could be set in countless
other locations, including many
US cities and towns.
A Separation is a realistic,
hardly flattering portrait of Iran,
a society beset by intense contradictions.
The film is frank
about all sections of the population.
At the same time, each
of the central figures is fairly
and sympathetically treated,
even the judge who has to rule
on the conflicting claims. The
individual degrees of guilt or
innocence fade into the background,
as the ultimate responsibility
for the tragedy clearly
lies with the profound social
and economic tensions. In the
end, as elsewhere, the more affluent
couple retain the upper
The performances are superb
in A Separation, a film virtually
without a false note.
Farhadi's film stands in the best,
intensely humane tradition of
Iranian cinema in recent decades,
along with Abbas
Kiarostami's Where is the
Friend's Home?, Close-Up and
Through the Olive Trees, and
Jafar Panahi's The White Ballon
and The Mirror, and numerous
A Separation reveals to the
viewer a complex and highly
cultured society, where daily
life, to be blunt, often proceeds
along more civilized lines than
in the US at present.
This is a country with a long,
terrible history of foreign oppression.
In 1953, the US and
Britain organized a coup
against a democratically elected
government and installed the
torture regime of the Shah,
which brutalized the Iranian
people and defended the interests
of Western oil companies
until its overthrow in 1979.
And will a war, in the name
of "the American people,"
based on one transparent falsehood
or another, soon be
launched against Iran? Will
deadly US bombs and missiles
shortly be raining down on the
streets, buildings and human
beings we see in A Separation?
Will the criminal cabal made up
of Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy
and Netanyahu have its way?
It is almost impossible to conceive
of. But it is the harsh reality.
Even without a full-scale
war, life in Iran is being
strangled by economic sanctions
and other measures, which
no doubt help account for the
pressures depicted in A Separation.
And why? So the US, and the
jackals who follow in its wake,
can have greater access to the
energy supplies of the Middle
East and shove out of their way
a regime they consider an obstacle.
The American media is busy
misrepresenting the situation
and indoctrinating the population.
On March 28, for example,
the New York Times,
whose editors already have the
blood of innumerable Iraqis on
their hands, ran another piece
behind whose writing and publication
one feels the thuggish
presence of intelligence agencies.
It is hard to tell in a given
instance because the Times operates
as a propaganda arm of
the Pentagon and CIA more or
less on "automatic pilot."
The March 28 article
chronicles the close relationship
between Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak as
they plot war against Iran. "For
Mr. Netanyahu," we learn, "an
Iranian nuclear weapon would
be the 21st-century equivalent
of the Nazi war machine and
the Spanish Inquisition." Historical
ignorance and moral
depravity here ally themselves
with neo-colonial arrogance.
That Israel is the only power
in the region already armed
with nuclear weapons and has
pursued aggressive and murderous
policies against the Palestinians
and other Arab
peoples for decades are not facts
troubling the Times reporter.
Will an attack on Iran produce
a "catastrophe"? Through
its presentation of the views of
Netanyahu and Barak, the
Times dismisses the notion. The
warmongering Israeli leaders
contend "that given a choice
between an Iran with nuclear
weapons... and the consequences
of an attack on Iran
before it can go nuclear, the latter
is far preferable. There will
be a counterattack, they say;
people will lose their lives and
property will be destroyed. But
they say it is the lesser of two
evils." If Iran counterattacks,
the US, of course, will invoke
its obligation to come to the
"defense" of Israel and launch
its own military assault.
What cold-blooded criminals
all these people are, in the
Obama administration and
Congress, the Israeli state and
the US media!
A relatively small number of
people in the US have seen A
Separation, some hundreds of
thousands. Another one million
or so have seen the film in
France, far fewer in the UK.
The governments of these
countries are planning to destroy
Iran as a regional power,
a task requiring the punishment
of its population with the
most lethal weaponry ever developed.
Americans and Europeans
should be seeing this film.
Accepting the Academy Award,
Farhadi offered the award to the
Iranian people, a people, he said,
who "respect all cultures and
civilizations and despise hostility
and resentment." Mass opposition
must build to the threat
of war with Iran. Everything
must be done to stop this crime
being prepared before people's