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A Separation

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Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi in A Separation
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Divorce, an honest lawyer will tell you, is never the complete end of anything---and so, in the extraordinary A Separation, we meet two dividing parties as merely a prologue. Simin (Hatami) hopes for a better life abroad for her child; Nader (Moaadi), a bank clerk, is firm on not wanting to emigrate, citing an ailing dad. Ignore, for a sec, that this is modern-day Iran (and you will, so universal are the movie's anxieties); a court officer offers little recourse. Simin packs her clothes and CDs and moves out, while Nader makes arrangements for a caretaker to come in and tend to his father.

This is where writer-director Asghar Farhadi's thickening plot gets interesting: Razieh (Bayat, superb in a difficult role), the day nurse, is deeply devout and has issues attending to the intimate needs of an older man. When she briefly vacates her post, an accident happens, and a subsequent argument and stairway shove between her and Nader has catastrophic consequences. Pardon the vagueness; much of the enjoyment of A Separation comes from its carefully sprung revelations.

Getting absorbed in the film's complex layers of procedural negotiation and domestic argument, you'll realize that we often settle for too little from our screenplays. Farhadi makes room for a wealth of detail, from quietly articulate children, disparities of class, sensitive parents (never one-note, even if trapped in a legal contest) and the huge divide of religion. The drama it might remind you most of, oddly enough, is Six Degrees of Separation, also about the snowballing connections between unlikely people. And as in that urban clash, the bedrock of it all is social responsibility, ever crumbling and rebuilding. A total triumph.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Read our Q&A with writer-director Asghar Farhadi

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Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Friday December 30 2011
Duration: 123 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Shahab Hosseini
Leila Hatami
Sareh Bayat
Peyman Moaadi
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