Life's moral dance

Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation"


Life's moral dance
by Ari Siletz

Two questions frame the film Nader and Simin: A Separation, the first in the opening scene of the movie and the other in the final scene. “What conditions?” the judge asks Simin when she says she wants to divorce Nader and leave the country because she prefers her daughter not to grow up under “these conditions.” Simin leaves the judge’s question unanswered, but from there the drama moves relentlessly towards that final question, which the judge puts to Termeh, the couples’ daughter: “do you want to stay with your father or with your mother?” By then each of us has a clear answer to the first question.

In the marvelously efficient opening scene dialog we quickly discover that the “condition” Simin is talking about has nothing to do with Nader being a bad husband. He’s handsome, liberal, educated, reasonably well off, considerate, and devoted to his wife and daughter. So why is this woman breaking up her family on a whim to take her child and live abroad, we wonder disapprovingly. Perhaps she’s tired of helping care for Nader’s father who has Alzheimer’s. Hardly evidence of good character. But as the story slowly raises the workout level for our sense of morals to more and more arduous settings, this simple take on who Simin is appears petty. Director Asghar Farhadi isn’t judging right from wrong; he’s exploring the very nature of morality.

Take Razieh for example, the woman Nader hires to tend to his father after Simin leaves to stay with her mother. The pious Razieh is an innocent to the point of having no autonomous sense of right and wrong. Why else would she call the Islamic hotline on the phone to find out if it’s appropriate to clean a disabled old man who has soiled himself? Though Razieh inclines to compassion, when it comes to action she abdicates her conscience to religion. This leads to some admirably moral behavior on her part, but does the credit go to her or to Islam?

Razieh’s husband, Hodjat, doesn’t even have piety to keep him decent. His is a survivor’s sense of ethics, as in none whatsoever. Yet he has a well-developed appreciation for justice when it comes to what he is owed. In fact he bullies and blackmails in the name of justice. In a fit of anger at seeing his old father neglected by Razieh, Nader had pushed her, possibly causing the pregnant woman to miscarry. Hodjat will not rest until he is properly compensated for his unborn child’s death.

Nader shows more free will than Hodjat or Razieh. His humanity is not overwhelmed by base survival instinct, and he is not religious. Yet he has his own prosthetic that he uses for a real conscience: a strong sense of duty to his father. He and Simin had planned for years to leave Iran with their daughter, but when their paper work is finally ready Nader decides he has to stay to take care of his father. Was he leading Simin on all these years? Why doesn’t he feel the same sense of duty to his wife and take responsibility for his change of heart by allowing Simin to take their daughter abroad with her?

This situation puts the 11-year-old Termeh in a terrible bind. With her parents’ separation inevitable, ultimately she will have to decide which one she will stay with. Ironically, the tragedy of Razieh’s miscarriage and the court struggle that follows has given Termeh an opportunity to watch the mettle of each of her parents put to the test. If Separation had a narrator, it would most likely be Termeh.

Termeh’s father is a man who struggles to the point of delusion to clear his sense of guilt and prove himself innocent to the world. He refuses to think of himself as someone who would do wrong, which is easy to do because there’s always room to flip a wrong to a right by upping the level of complexity. In this reckless quest to rescue his sense of moral self-perfection he puts his daughter in the awful position of deciding whether or not to lie in a court of law.

Terhmeh’s mother, on the other hand, feels guilt as a responsibility, not naively as the opposite of innocence. She takes it as a fact of life that sometimes in the normal process of being ourselves we cause others harm. She accepts this about her husband without a moral struggle because, to her, doing the right thing by others is all about working hard to create acceptable compromises. Lelia Hatami’s deadpan style of acting works very well for Simin’s practical take on ethics.

This character analysis may give the impression that Separation is an intellectual movie. It can be, but at the same time it is as sentimental as any signature Iranian film. There are heart-wrenching performances particularly by Sareh Bayat (Razieh) and Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), and there are engaging mysteries, clues and plot twists leading to that final courtroom scene where the judge asks Termeh to decide between her parents. Farhadi does not let us know Terhmeh’s decision because he does not wish to editorialize on the issues he has raised. We can tell because Separation has no background music to tell us how to feel. After all, if God played music for us as we went through life our moral dance would be a lot simpler.


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Ari Siletz

On the other hand, Omid

by Ari Siletz on

The film's fans in Iran are a pain in the neck for the regime. Separation was first released along with another expected Norooz blockbuster, Ekhraajihaa III by the baseej director Masoud Dehnamaki.

This led to a box office battle between pro-regime and protesters as to which film would sell the most theatre seats. Separation was screened in fewer theaters in Iran but despite this handicap the race was neck to neck most of the way until Ekhraajihaa won (temporarily as it seems).

Now Ekhrajihaa III is just another past-season film, whereas Separation has been given a chance to make film history on the international scene. If Separation wins an Oscar for best picture it will be the first foreign language film ever to be honored in this way and a big slap in the face to the baseej and their ilk in Iran. I say what the regime would gain in propaganda will be more than offset by this huge victory for the protest movement in Iran. What was the IRI thinking?!!!

Omid Parsi

Great Drama, and a subtle PR win for the IRI

by Omid Parsi on

It is hard to see how the IRI tolerates such films that portray life's miseries under Islamic repression. But it all makes sense when you see how a film like this gives the impression of relative openness under the IRI, just as the IRI is contemplating a final crackdown on all forms of expressions that do not fully conform to the official brainwash.

I think the deal is that this film, and a few other gems like it who have won critical acclaim on the festival circuit, are required to have their share of "fore-handed criticisms" of life under the theocratic regime. By "fore-handed criticisms" I mean the opposite of the proverbial "back-handed complement".

For instance, "A Separation" gives the subtle impression that the IRI's justice system is as fair and square as you'd have it in a civilized country: No mullahs meting out savage shariah sentences, no show trials or forced confessions, no summary execution or stoning, etc. Now that may in fact be the case in most of Iran's civil courts, but nonetheless it helps to paint the image that no real injustice can go on in the land of well-meaning, pious and/or moral people such as the film's characters.

No doubt that the IRI believes they need this kind of PR to tone down its own "Death to the World" rhetoric and cloud the fact that it has relied on sheer terror and utter disregard for all human rights and international norms from its inception. 

I doubt "A Separation" will win the Oscar, unless the Hollywood bleeding heart establishment decides to send a peacenik message at the time of escalating confrontation with Iran... A very unlikely event given how Hollywood is a solid pillar of unconditional sympathy for beleaguered Israel.




by Monda on

Hmmm, was Somayyeh's bakcpack large enough for 300 G's?! 

During my second viewing, I did feel too that I wanted more on Razieh's husband (forgot his character's name) and their daughter. But I thought to myself that I was one of the few who wanted to know more about that particular dynamic... I thought the man was emotionally unavailable to that child. For his own reasons. Some of which we saw. (This is why 'analysis' of each character and dynamic, can be way too long to fit in the movie. Hey an how about Nader's relationship/ childhood experiences with his dad? huh? and his mother? what happened to her? questions go on and on...)

Fine Ari khan, 'Separate' we are on the supporting female. I can live with that : )  


Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

Yes, it is the nature of art to be in the eye of the beholder. In fact the artistic process is not complete until the beholder adds the final touch with personal interpretation from his/her individual angle. For example, I was intrigued with Tavana's personal interpretation because he went so far as to actually remember a factually different ending. Amazingly clever statements regarding this "viewpoint" effect have been made by scupltures. Shiego Fukuda is among them.


In the eye of beholder

by incognito on

Ari, Thanks for sharing your insightful review of ‘A Separation.’  Yours is the seventh or eighth review/critique of this film I have read in the past two weeks, every one adding to my appreciation of Farhadi’s work while being noticeably different than the others.  And that attests to the complexity of this writer/director’s cinematic creation.

I do not intend to repeat my own take on this movie, which I outlined in an earlier comment about Bahmani’s review.  I only want to point out that interpretations other than the ones you offer here are possible. For example,
Razieh may be naive and pious – as you have pointed out - but she is certainly not morally – or legally - innocent. She accuses Nader of throwing her down the stairs and causing the death of her unborn child when she knows quite well that her fetus was aborted when a car hit her the previous day.  Her accusation is a libel anywhere. To what extent we can hold Nader responsible for her mishap – after all she was hit while at work and he is the employer - is a whole different case.

And, about your main question: “Why doesn’t [Nader] feel the same sense of duty to his wife and take responsibility for his change of heart by allowing Simin to take their daughter abroad with her?” How do we know that leaving Iran was a joint project – and thus the succeeding change of heart? How do we know the old man was not diagnosed after they planed leaving? How do we know Nader had not acquiesced to leaving in the first place to get Simin off his back? (Why can’t we give them both the benefit of the doubt?) While we are at it, how many men do you know that regard letting their (ex-)wife take their child(ren) away a “sense of duty” toward either?

‘A Separation’ starts as a story about an unsavory divorce and ends as a
child-custody drama when two (ir?) reconcilable parents decide to stop using
their daughter as a bargaining chip (there is ample evidence for that in the
movie) and allow her to choose between them – an implausible scenario anywhere let alone in Iran. Farhadi has given the viewer an opportunity to reveal not his/her taste, but his/her bias, by judging and taking side, or not taking side at all, and for that I am thankful.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

I don't want to point fingers, but during the scene where Nader was helping Somayeh stuff her school book in her backpack I remebered a previous scene where Razieh empties her bag to show that the stolen money isn't there. We never saw what was inside Somayeh's bag though.  Perhaps another Farhadi angle on the morality issue is the simple way a first grader would see things: taking exactly what is owed is OK even without asking.Well, little Somayeh learned that this approach has consequences.

By the way, one weakness of the film was that it did not develop a relationship between Somayeh and her dad. The Oscar judges may not notice this serious gap consciously but a flaw in an otherwise perfectly balanced character map will nag them.

I agree regarding Nader having to take care of dad, but why not accept the fact that this means he would have to bite the bullet and let Simin take Termeh as she had planned for her child for a long time (and with Nader's cooperation). 

As far as deciding between Termeh and Razieh for best acting, this could be a different movie called "Ari and Monda: A Separation."



by Monda on

Great review Ari and some of the points which I already found on your thread. My first question about this movie, was the title. But I resolved to MPD's logic of neutral, balanced, more objective stance of Farhadi. No matter who separated from whom first, still the act of Separation fueled the film. Aren't we all familiar with that somewhat still-raw nerve that is the S-word... Your Ingmar Bergman reference on MPD's movie blog was also interesting. Separation or its characters are indeed universal. To me that was one more brilliant piece about Farhadi's film.

Picking on Nader's defense (his father's condition)?! But he had to,... right? 

I thought Termeh deserved to share the supporting actress with Razieh.

And who did steal the money out of Nader's drawer??!!


Orang Gholikhani

Life is not only funny or action

by Orang Gholikhani on

Hi all,

I saw many people as Bahmani said they won't go to see this movie because it is sad.

I agree with you many Iranian movies are sad just for being sad and make cry and I wont go to see them either. But this one is a miror of life and life is not only funny or full of actions.

Hollywood movies are ONLY action and "pastorriseh" like a big mac when you see them it is fine but after nothing remind except a burdun which need a coke to passe. There is the same situation with Bollywood in India

Elsewhere such in Europe and Asia, people are keen to see movies which are tasty. you could not like the taste but it is there. Like a Fesenjoon or Ghormeh sabzi.

Hopefully, There are also some good US independent movies in East  cost.

Every body should go see this movie, even many times to undrstand every piece of feeling on it.



Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on

The last time I was so impressed with an Iranian actress was when I saw Gohar Kheirandish as Zir Madineh in Milani's The Fifth Reaction. But Bayat's performance in Separation has edged out Kheirandish in my mind. Not sure if Western judges have the background to recognize Bayat's powerfully sympathetic interpretation of Razieh. It may take an Iranian with a feel for the "conditions." 


Sareh is Razieh, she does not play it!

by Mahvash Shahegh on


Sareh Bayat (Razieh) is my choice for best supporting actres for Oscar too. In my opinion, she does not play her role; she lives it!

Outstanding performance! Hope the judges open up their eyes and watch her performance closely!

Ari Siletz

More replies

by Ari Siletz on

MPD: Your blog on this film showcases admirable writing talent. James Joyce, except lighter and funnier.

Orang: Very good observations about the characters. For me, character driven films take longer to get into because it takes time to get to know the characters. But once you're in, there's no adventure greater than the human soul.

Dr. Ala: Yes, the acting was superb. If I had to vote, I would pick Sareh Bayat (Razieh). But that's just the sentimentalist in me.

Bahmani: I agree about the rich and vast journey being missed. I think it has to do with the needs of each country's audience. If Iranians needed escapism more than in-depth soul searching we would see more of it. American escapist blockbusters are driven by the teen market (though adult "inner-childs" benefit), and I'm not sure how much purchasing power Iranian teens have-censorship being a parallel but separate issue alongside market forces.  In terms of adult escapist Iranian films, check out Tahmineh Milani's romantic comdey, Ceasefire. I would be curious to see your review of it.



WoW now that I read this, what a sad movie!

by bahmani on

While it is obviously logical for Iranians at the height of their real tangible sadness, would tend toward sadness in film too, I just wish we could depart this body and experience a free flight of fancy for once.

But no, instead of starting out with the 3 stooges, and then gradually moving up, Iranians filmmakers want to go straight to Bergman and Fellini.

What a rich and vast journey we are wasting!

I have no doubt this film will win the Oscar. the buzz is simply too great. AND Hollywood and Cannes love to poke US foreign policy in the eye whenever they can, and the current height of tension only serves to feed this film's chances even more.

Too bad this film has absolutely nothing to do with what being an Iranian really is. At this rate, it seems no one will ever get to know the true us.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //

Mohammad Ala

This movie has won excellent Awards...

by Mohammad Ala on

Good comments posted.  As any separation, this movie is full of drama.  The actors and actresses did great.  As Orang said, the ending is a personal decision which many Iranians have faced.   

This movie has won excellent Awards so far and it will be great if it can win Oscar.  It has earned a high place in the minds and hearts of film lovers both inside and outside of Iran.

Ari jan;  I saw the Iranian version in the form of a DVD purchased for 2500 toman by a family member to watch it at home.  I have not seen any foreign version.  Although I saw it in October of last year, your description depicts what I saw.

Orang Gholikhani

All of them are honest and have to lie despite of themselves

by Orang Gholikhani on

Ari jan,

Very good character analysis you have done. What was amazing for me in this story is that everybody is very honest and have to lie despite of themselves.

Nader doesn't use all power IRI laws offer to him as a man. He could easily ask to keep his daughter but let her to decide by herself.

Marzieh is a true beleiver and feel guilty about God's judgement

All of them are honest and finished by lying because of misplaced honor

And at the end which hard choice between Father or Mother. Between mother land or freedom abroad ?

It is not only a question for Termeh, it is for all of us. It is why he doesn't show Termeh's answer.

It is our call, our story


Multiple Personality Disorder

I have my own THOUGHTS about this movie

by Multiple Personality Disorder on



I am thinking of blogging it, instead of posting it here as a comment 

But, I was thinking, at least I can comment about this, the name of the movie in Farsi is

جداییِ نادر از سیمین


meaning, it is Nader who is separating from Simin, in that case in English it should have been translated as: "Separation of Nader from Simin”
But, the way it is translated in English, "Nader and Simin: A Separation", makes more sense, because in that case a neutral position is taken regarding who is separation from whom, which also relates to what Tavana is saying, which in that case the Farsi equivalent would had to be

جداییِ نادر و سیمین

never mind the formatting of the text, it's not my fault, it's this damn machine that's doing it

Ari Siletz

Some replies

by Ari Siletz on

Nader: I'm hoping the Oscar commitee will put aside politics and award the film based on its excellent merits. If that happens, many will of course interpert the award politically.

Ashna: Thank you for your kind remark. I am glad I proof-read the main article as there were several "Shirin"s that I had to correct to "Simin." I call it a "Nezamian slip."

Mahvash: Thanks for the confirmation. It would be awful if IRI censorship has forced Farhadi to alter the ending for the Iranian release version so as to leave Simin holding the bag for the mess. That would be an outrageous tasarof. If anyone has seen the film on Iranian screens, I would be grateful if they let us know what differences (if any) exist between the domestic and foreign releases. Part of the "conditions" Simin was talking about, I suppose.


Ari is right

by Mahvash Shahegh on

The version that I saw was exactly the way that Ari describes, they both were in the court and waiting for the verdict.


The best

by آشنا on

review for this movie so far.


In your last comment (below) you wrote “Farhad” instead of “Nader”
which is an interesting Freudian slip by itself.



Nader Vanaki

اسکار رو بی خیالش

Nader Vanaki

امکان نداره که یک فیلم ایرانی جایزه اسکار ببره.  با ترکیبی که هالیوود داره یک دونه رآی هم نمیاره و دلتون رو زیاد خوش نکنید.  برای خودم فیلم و بازیگرهاش بی نظیرن و خودم بهشون سه چهارتا اسکار میدم.

Ari Siletz


by Ari Siletz on


In the final shot, both Simin and Farhad are sitting in the hall outside the courtroom. Simin to the left and further from the camera and Farhad to the right, closer to the camera.  Separated by a glass door with white metal frame, they each sit waiting while the credits crawl for a whole two minutes.

There's a slight chance that you may have seen a different version of the ending as sometimes scenes or endings are changed to fit the market. However the modification that you are suggesting would be highly inconsistent with the rest of the film.


The Fine Tuned Universe

by Tavana on

"Farhadi does not let us know Terhmeh’s decision because he does not wish to editorialize on the issues he has raised"

He could not tell such more clearly as Simin leaves the courthouse & Nader is staying!

GOD has created the whole universe on a single 'fine tune' & our acts of 'prayers/worshipings' are ought to be in accordance with that 'tune' as we go through our lives even if such are performed as Sufis' spiritual dances!