Reviews: A Separation

Hands down the best film of 2011...

... and it's not a smarmy, pretentious art-house disaster! (Don't get me wrong; I really like The Tree of Life too, but...)

Asghar Farhadi proved with Fireworks Wednesday and About Elly that he was one of the most talented new voices in Iranian cinema, capable of balancing multifaceted characters and complicated plot twists without sacrificing believability or realism. And he did all this in Iran's restrictive film culture, where basically nobody can say anything even remotely anti-Iran and nobody can touch anybody else. (I'm aware that this is an oversimplification, but you get the picture.)

Enter A Separation. Featuring famed Iranian actress Leila Hatami and Farhadi regulars Peyman Maadi and Shahab Hosseini, A Separation has the best acting and storytelling of any Farhadi film yet. The movie balances religion, politics, adolescence, class structure, law, culture, family ties and human rights without flinching. The film is mostly shot using handheld cameras, which adds further realism. In fact, Hatami and Maadi don't even seem to be acting—it's like the filmmakers stuck a camera in a real family's house. Farhadi also shoots quite a few scenes through windows and glass, driving home the implications of the film's title.

A Separation is not one of those movies you need a film degree to appreciate. The twisting plot should appeal to anyone who enjoys mystery stories or Christopher Nolan films (or both), while anyone who likes a good drama won't be disappointed by the story. And there's not an ounce of pretension in the film—Farhadi clearly wants to show us something real.

This is really top-notch stuff. I couldn't believe it wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but I suppose Best Foreign Film will have to do. It's hitting the Americas on DVD within the next few weeks, so be sure to to check it out.