Bridging the cultural divide

This is my review of A Separation [DVD] [2011].

At a time of great ignorance in the west of life in modern Iran this film provides some useful insights. I was struck by how similar the issues are in some ways to those of a British couple facing separation, yet also by the extent of the cultural differences. The wife wants to leave the country with her daughter, but her husband has the power to forbid it. The perceptive teenage daughter is caught between her parents, and chooses at first to stay with her father in a desperate attempt to keep her parents together. The wife goes off to live with her own parents, leaving her estranged husband with the problem of how to obtain day care for his father, who suffers from dementia. The woman who is hired for this task through a casual arrangement proves unable to cope. There is a fascinating scene in which, concerned for the old man who is incontinent, she phones an imam for advice as to whether it is permissible for her to help her charge to clean himself. The husband returns home to find the flat empty and his father in a state, and matters turn violent when the carer comes back without a good explanation. In the ongoing dispute, the complexity of the issues is clearly shown, with right on both sides, and one’s sympathies are divided.

This is a tightly plotted and entertaining drama, despite the at times grim theme – a kind of middle eastern update of Kramer versus Kramer (American film about a divorced couple with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman) and in my view much deeper. We are thrust into the midst of some very convincing dramatic exchanges. The Iranian justice system is intriguing as we see the various protagonists crammed into an office, arguing loudly with each other and with the official whose task it is to decide on what seems an arbitrary basis who should be charged and who should be held in jail pending trial. Although harsh, Iranian society seems in some ways more deeply moral and concerned with fairness and right versus wrong than our own. Ironically, as in Britain, the better educated and wealthier couple’s rights win out over those of the poorer family.

“Separation” is not just a drama with an appeal which crosses cultural boundaries. It also increased my understanding of Iranian culture and deserves to be more widely viewed to break down our ill-founded prejudices.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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