A Separation's director tells just enough of the truth (in his film)

As Asghar Farhadi explains it (via phone from Washington, D.C., where his Farsi is being conveyed into English by a translator), his new film A Separation is “a detective movie, but the detective doesn’t exist in the movie. The audience is supposed to be the detective.” It’s a device established in the opening scene, in which married couple Nader and Simin explain their intractable dilemma to a court official by speaking directly into the camera—a hand-held camera that moves ever so slightly as they argue. “The first scene is hand-held because it shows that the camera is the judge,” Farhadi says. “It sort of invites the audience into that scene.”

Farhadi, 40, started out as a screenwriter a decade ago before moving on to write and direct five features of his own. Though his previous films have received little or no distribution here, he has gained a reputation among a handful of Western critics for bringing the audience along step by step, revealing new details of the complex series of events and relationships that fuel his stories. A Separation shows off his mastery of this approach. “It is very essential in detective movies not to reveal too much,” Farhadi says, “and to [be careful] how much to reveal.”

One of the most important arbiters of truth in A Separation is Termeh, Nader and Simin’s young teenage daughter, played by Farhadi’s own young teenage daughter Sarina Farhadi. In addition to being a pawn in the struggle between her parents, Termeh is repeatedly forced to make decisions that could change everything for her parents and herself. Asked whether he had any trepidation about putting so much of the film on his own daughter’s narrow shoulders, he says, “When I was writing [the script], I wasn’t worried about how difficult it would be for her. When I was filming, I discovered it was very difficult—I had to put her in a situation I didn’t want to.” Though filming was at times “strained and uncomfortable” for him, he notes that because of Sarina’s role, “I have a better understanding of my daughter.”

Termeh is perhaps the most innocent party left standing at the end of the central dispute, though hers is a shattered innocence at that point. Yet despite the recriminations, pyrrhic victories, and emotional ruins of A Separation’s plot, none of the characters ultimately comes to bear anything like blame. “I was hoping to have the audience accept how every character behaved in the movie,” Farhadi says. “In every movie I’ve made, I’ve never had a negative character. Same as life. People are not black and white.”

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