Reviews

'A Separation': A Broad Message Sent via Minimalist Form

This doesn't offer ‘universal’ and single-minded ‘humanistic’ messages; instead, it reveals that social oppression needs to be understood beyond the oversimplistic dichotomies of good versus evil.


A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi
Distributor: Artificial Eye
UK release date: 2011-11-21

Bertolt Brecht once asserted that realism is in art should be a goal, an objective that aims at laying bare the causal network of society and unveiling the roots that lead to social oppression and not simply a style that reproduces the empirical reality. Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011) is a brilliant example of the type of realism that Brecht spoke of. It's not a film that offers ‘universal’ and single-minded ‘humanistic’ messages, but instead urges the audience to understand that social oppression needs to be understood beyond the oversimplistic dichotomies of good versus evil.

Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival of this year, A Separation takes as its starting point a very simple story about the fractured relationship of a married couple. Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaad) have been married for 14 years and they now want to split. The reason is that Simin, a successful career woman wants to move to a country outside Iran, in which there will be more prospects both for her and her talented daughter.

Nader disagrees because he won't leave his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who suffers from Alzheimer. Nader does not want to keep his wife by force, but he's unwilling to let her take their daughter abroad and this is the reason that he does not consent to a divorce. Given that in Iran divorce has to be mutually agreed by both parties involved, Simin will have to leave her family and temporarily separate with her husband.

Then again, despite the fact that this is a very modern and middle-class family, we can see how Simin’s departure creates a sense of chaos in the house. The question that arises is who is going to do the housekeeping and who will look after Nader’s father? To help, Simin introduces Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a working-class religious woman who doesn't hesitate to commute for 90 minutes to work at Nader’s apartment. Razieh doesn't tell her boss that she is pregnant. After having an argument with her boss who accuses her of having stolen some money from the house as well as of having left his father unattended, she is pushed outside the house. The same day she is sent to the hospital and she miscarriages.

From that point, a confrontation arises between the two families. Nader is interrogated by the Iranian authorities, while Razieh’s husband becomes more aggressive since he feels that the authorities are prejudiced against him due to his class.

The film’s minimalist form downplays issues of content and brings to the surface issues of gender and class oppression in the Iranian society. In the end, we realise that Nader was not guilty for Razieh’s miscarriage, but the film’s intricate texture has managed to reveal issues dealing with prejudice against people from lower class backgrounds, the oppressive role of religion and theocracy in Iranian society and the thin boundaries between right and wrong, justice and injustice.

Nader’s daughter and his wife seem to question him even when his innocence is proved. The audience is left perplexed, since the film’s ending frustrates character identification and our temporary siding with Simin’s family.

Asghar Farhadi uses this simple story as a means of guiding us from the particular (a family story) to the general (broader social relationships). The story's open-endedness negates any sense of paternalistic preaching and foregrounds its respect towards the audience which is not simply asked to consume a drama.

The film’s form is also telling in this respect. The minimalist style draws our attention to the materiality of space and the constantly shifting power dynamics within it. Furthermore, the minimum dialogue and the lack of extra-diegetic music do not force any emotions to the viewer, instead asking him/her to make sense of the material and not simply consume a dramatic narrative. Equally important is that the film avoids oversimplistic condemnations of the Iranian regime, showing that oppression can be propagated unconsciously, even by those who are at the bottom of society.

There are no extras with this DVD.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image