Even if you don’t like foreign films, I urge you to see this film as it is quite simply one of the best films ever made.
It’s an Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi which touches on issues of culture and religion but is, at heart, about human relationships, about how conflicts and misunderstandings can easily arise and cause so much damage. Its setting is Tehran but it could be any town in any country.
The film won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, plus numerous other awards from film festivals around the world. It was also the highest rated film on the Meatcritic website for 2011.
From the opening scene, where middle-class couple Nader and Simin dispute with a judge about whether or not they should get divorced, to the final scene, where their 11-year old daughter Termeh has to decide which of them to live with, the story is utterly gripping. There are enough plot twists to make you feel you are watching a thriller.
Nader and Simin have been married for 14 years but now Simin wants to leave the country with daughter Termeh as she doesn’t want Termeh to grow up in Iran. Nader wants to stay in Iran and is concerned for the welfare of his elderly father, who lives with the family and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Simin files for divorce but the judge rejects her application so she moves in with her parents, leaving Nader to look after Termeh and Nader’s father.
Nader hires Razieh, a poor, deeply religious woman, to care for his father while he’s out at work. Razieh is pregnant and also has a daughter she has to bring with her to work. One day, Nader returns home to find Razieh has gone and his father is lying unconscious on the floor. When Razieh returns, Nader confronts her and accuses her of stealing money (though she is innocent of this as Simin had earlier taken the money to pay removal men). He pushes her out of the flat and she slips and falls, leading to a miscarriage.
From this set-up develops a battle of wills between Nader and Razieh and her husband as both sides seek redress through the legal system. Nader eventually agrees to pay Razieh compensation but on condition that she swears on the Qur’an that his actions caused her miscarriage. This is one of many moral dilemmas the characters face as the situation escalates.
The film engenders sympathy for all of the characters through all the twists and turns of the plot. The direction, script and acting are excellent and the film richly deserves the praise it has won. It will be interesting to follow Farhadi’s career to see if his future work can live up to the very high standard set by this film.
Review by David Hawthorn