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Iran's Modern Dilemma
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Nader and Simin, a Separation
Director: Asghar Farhadi, Iran
Stars: Babak Karimi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat,
and Sarina Farhadis

Two years ago I saw a wonderful and mysterious Iranian film called About Elly which won the Silver Bear. This year director Asghar Farhadi brought a film that was even more complex and interesting: Nader and Simin, a Separation which clearly won the Golden Bear. None of the other films were so finely crafted as this one. In fact, many of the films in competition were not competitive or just couldn’t compare to the bare bones of this film. Its basic concept is quite complex, a topic on the news everyday. The entire Middle East is demanding change. The topic is divorce in Iran. It was interesting to learn that the divorce rate is quite high there.

Simin wants to divorce her husband since he will not leave the country in order to provide a better education for their daughter. They had done all the preparation for this step but, at the last moment, Nader refuses to leave behind his father who has Alzheimer. Simin wants the divorce but the court doesn’t accept her arguments. Since they are a modern family, their daughter can decide with whom she will live with until she finishes her exams.

A press conference question confronted Farhadi on the divorce issues of the film: How did you get so close to the divorce predicament? Do you have personal experience? Considering the social factor between these two classes, what is the relationship between the proletariat class and the intellectually enlighten class?

Asghar Farhadi: I have no personal experience. When I wrote the screen play, I went to the family court and saw how this happens. The divorce rate is very high even though Iran is a traditional country. Iran is modernizing very quickly but the country is not necessarily modern. There many undercurrents and predicaments due to the struggle between the classes. The lower classes are more religious and conservative than the educated class. There is a hidden struggle between the old and the new and it will cost our society dearly.

He films a slice out of time, so that there is no ending of sorts; he wants the audience to make up its mind what the film means. About Elly ended in the same way, but, in that case, since there was a death or a missing person, the ending remains an unsolved mystery. In this film, the divorce is finally granted, since Nader agrees. The remaining question is: what will become of their daughter? She must make a choice. Will she seek out the modern way or cling to the traditional lifestyle? It asks the same question of the Iranian society: which direction will it take? Modern technology, such as the internet, is having a great influence on our societies.

Asghar Farhadi: This film is a continuation of my other films, in that audiences realize that the end is not the finish of something but the beginning of asking questions.

And having completed the film in this way, means the audience takes an open ending with them.

Simin represents the future for her daughter, whereas Nader represents the past. He still requires an emotional connection to the past (his father), but since father and son are unable to communicate, this relationship has been ruptured.

Asghar Faradi: I think this film is about human beings and their weaknesses and faults. A woman is responsible for her daughter’s future, but the separation causes her daughter pain. That is why it touches everyone. It doesn’t matter about classes or culture. It is a universal problem.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film dealt with the caretaking of Nader’s father. Since he had Alzheimer, he was prone to leaving the house and losing his way as well as not having control of his urinary tract. Without Simin, Nader finds a substitute caretaker, a pregnant woman who brings along her small child. Soon it is obvious that, according to Islam, her job should be forbidden. But what is allowed?

Asghar Faradi: In Islam, a male or female child may care for the parents since they are direct relatives. It is not possible for indirect or unrelated persons. This only represents one part of Iran. While one part of society is like this, there is a class difference here.

He hires a very religious woman, who calls upon a religious adviser to handle the situation. Since no one else is there, she cleans the old man. This action later comes back to haunt her. These different moral standards repeat themselves over and over again and create conflicts for the characters to overcome. For example, Nader expects his daughter to commit perjury re: he knew that his hired employee was pregnant.

Asghar Faradi: This is a crisis of human beings nowadays. What is the definition of morals? The standard comes from religion and tradition, which have evolved over time. Meanwhile interpersonal relationships are more complicated. Thus, these standards create a conflict in individual lives. So they search for new definitions of moral standards.

The film showed so many sides of life in Iran. Aspects which for us seem strange and hard to understand, but in the end, the conflicts must be resolved in order to move forward. I hope this film will be shown around the world. It really will open your eyes to a different way of life, while, at the same time, we can relate to the interpersonal conflict that develops within this family.