Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Iranian Pair

I have seen two Iranian films in the past month.

A Separation starring Peyman Moadi; directed by Asghar Farhadi; Persian with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Hunter starring and directed by Rafi Pitts; Persian with subtitles; (2010)

A Separation won the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I caught it on Encore Sunday of Cinequest. With a long break between films I wanted to see at Cinequest, I squeezed in A Separation which was playing at the Camera 3.

The Hunter was showing at the Roxie.


A Separation is a "he said, she said" mystery. Peyman Moaadi is Nader, taxi driver who is trying to balance the needs of caring for his father who suffers Alzheimer's disease, teach his 11 year old daughter proper Muslim values and reconcile with his wife (Leila Hatami) who has moved out of the home because of Moaadi's refusal to move abroad. That seems like enough to build a movie around but it's only the set up.

With his wife out of the house, Moaadi must hire a caregiver for his father. He hires Razieh, a deeply religious young mother from a poor suburb. Within a few days, the two are in conflict. Moaadi is a hard guy to work for while Razieh is overwhelmed by the tasks she was hired to do. Moaadi returns home early one day to find his father tied to the bed and Razieh nowhere to be found. She eventually returns with a vague explanation as to where she has been. Moaadi, angry about her absence and the treatment of his father, fires her. For good measure, he accuses her of stealing money from the home as well. She returns a few minutes later. The pious Razieh can accept the criticism of his father's care but cannot let stand the false charges of theft and she demands her daily wage. Still upset, Moaadi pushes her out the door.

Later, Moaadi discover Razieh is in the hospital and miscarried. He claims to have not known she was pregnant. She claims his final push out the door forced to stumble on the stairwell and cause the miscarriage. Eventually the police are called and Moaadi faces murder charges for the death of the unborn fetus.

This is the part where the film really shines. At a measured pace, the film reveals the lies and half-truths both Moaadi and Razieh have told. It is ambiguous as the cause of Razieh's miscarriage and her husband is shown to be the most vocal victim. Like many countries, in Iranian culture and law, a crime victim can receive a settlement from the alleged perpetrator in exchange from withdrawing the charges which causes authorities to stop prosecution. Despite his fervent belief that he is innocent, Moaadi's wife and daughter convince him to make a payment to Razieh and her husband. Crafty Moaadi uses Razieh's piousness one last time in a clever scene.

Perhaps that gave away too much of the plot but I was aware of the ambiguous nature of the story so I think that is part of the appeal.

A Separation is a very interesting film which showed the hypocrisy and ethical shortcomings of people. Moaadi's daughter is particularly affected by her father's behavior which is in conflict with his lessons and lectures to her. Moaadi, shamefully, manipulates her daughter's emotions to rationalize and continue his defence of his actions. The film ends with Moaadi's divorce being final and his daughter in a courtroom telling the judge which parent she chooses to live with. The audience is left to wonder which one she will choose as the credits roll.

A Separation is an excellent film. Strong performances from the entire cast.


The Hunter is about a man who loses everything and goes off the deep end. The titular character Ali (played by director Rafi Pitts) loses his wife and daughter tragically. He blames the police for their deaths and retaliates by killing two cops with his hunting rifle.

Although the investigation is never revealed, the viewers can feel the police closing in on Ali. Everything is told from Ali's point of view until he caught by two cops in the woods. Ali, an experience hunter, remains ominously silent but the cops bicker endlessly while lost in the woods with their prisoner.

The three men wander the woods for the last third of the film. The two cops are polar opposites and don't care for each other. The ranking cop (I don't think they are given names in the film) wants to execute Ali on the spot. The younger cop intervenes. I think Iranians may read more metaphors into the cops behavior but from my perspective, the two served to symbolize two sides of the same coin. Ali, who blames the police for his predicament, encounters one cop who is openly hostile and one who still arrests him but tries to empathize with him. The final scene is open to several interpretations.

Pitts has a haggard look to him which fits Ali perfectly. Walking in the rain, hands tied behind his back, soaked to the bone, Pitts' Ali is pitiful sight but his silence adds considerable strength to his character. Ali Nicksaulat and Hassan Ghalenoi as the two cops are memorable.

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