Saturday, August 6, 2011

Nader and Simin - A Separation

I'm pretty psyched about this review because if you are in North America (or anywhere outside Germany, I believe), I am doing what reviewers are actually supposed to do and giving you a bit of a heads-up on a movie that isn't out yet. If you are in Germany, I'm not doing that, so just go see it now because it is awesome.

Awesome is even an understatement. This is a movie from Iran which I imagine had to be created within the bounds of that country's censorship laws, and it is nonetheless one of the most thoughtful, illuminative, and tense works of art that I have ever seen. As soon as it comes to your area, get out and see it.

The story begins simply enough. We have a middle-class couple, separating for a reason one suspects might be different than the one given. We have their studious child, and we have the husband's father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and needs a daytime caregiver. The caregiver, a little too hastily hired at the film's outset, takes the form of an uneducated chador-clad pregnant woman who comes from the poor part of town and is deeply religious. The strictness of her observance provides an almost comedic note in an otherwise deadly serious story: at one point she makes a call to what seems to be an Islamic hotline, asking whether she is permitted to change the soiled clothes of her senile, incontinent charge.

Though it becomes clear to the viewer rather quickly that looking after her wandering charge is too physically taxing for the pregnant woman, the separated husband, who is stubborn, proud, and perhaps emotionally distant, does not notice - or does he? When the woman disappears while she was supposed to be looking after the elderly man and his son comes home early, a nasty argument ensues in which he accuses her of stealing and then shoves her out the door so aggressively that she falls down the stairs - or does she? She loses her baby, that much is clear, but the rest is a little sketchy, a little ambiguous, and a perfect window into the complexity of the wide gap between the rich and the poor, not just in Iran but perhaps anywhere.

Wisely, the filmmaker does not pass judgement on any of the people involved, but rather lets you see the flaws in all of them equally. Someone will have to judge them though, because the rest of the film deals with the ensuing case as the poor woman's husband takes the wealthier man to court for manslaughter. But how can such a non-judgemental movie possibly end? You'll have to see for yourself, but I will tell you this: to that problem, the filmmaker came up with a truly beautiful solution.

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