Whether the film is a real representation of people’s lives is immaterial; it seems like it is real. It feels real. It smells real. It almost tastes real. The writing is close to flawless and the acting is so natural you feel that the film is almost a documentary—excepting the fact that people are usually not so natural in documentaries.
Often, “Iranian” films that are seen in the West are never actually screened in Iran. They are made by brave people bucking the system. Sometimes they are good. Sometimes not so much but people in the West are loathe to attack a film that was so difficult to make. This film, apparently, is an exception to this. I heard it was a hit in Iran (I have some questions as to what that means). But there is at least some indication people in the Islamic Republic connected to it. That is what a “hit” is indicative of a film that somehow connects with people on some level. This fact sometimes makes me unable to fall asleep at night, I wake up shrieking “No…NO…Rob Schneider,” then I realize he hasn’t had a hit for years and I fall asleep for a bit until some specter resembling Michael Bay pulls off the covers and rolls me onto the floor.
What is most fascinating about A Separation is how those DASTARDLY Iranians are not ranting mullahs or slick politicians but people very much like Americans. They do stupid things. They lose their tempers. They have to deal with bureaucracy. They love their kids. They worry about if they are doing the right thing. Sometimes they lie.
But I didn’t start writing this with an aim of castigating fanatics—here or there. This film shows how similar we are, not how different. We face the exact same things—a rocky marriage, dealing with our kids, parents who get old and sick and trying to fit our religious beliefs into the reality of our everyday lives. The film has a great deal in it about differing levels of belief and the conflict between the educated and uneducated, between the middle class and the poor. Change the religion to Christian and the language to English and most of the film could take place in Omaha.
The biggest difference between “us and them,” in the context of the film is that Iranians at least think about emigrating. Americans, traditionally, do not. That is a small thing. There may be better foreign films out there this year. But it is to be hoped that this one wins the Oscar in that category. The world needs to take a deep breath and see that Iranians are people—regardless of how we view their government.