Winning Best Foreign Picture is a big deal for an Iranian filmmaker. As a westerner I have my prejudices and so do most of my peers. We think that all Iranians are repressed and ultra religious. Nobody can express themselves artistically and they don’t have a concept of “liberal” art. Unfortunately the news lately have backed us up with the forced disbanding of a film arts club (the only one left in Iran) and the very public jailing of Jafar Panahi. But if you know your world cinema, you know that these strict sanctions are stimulating to the most talented of filmmakers and directors like Kiarostami, Panahi, and Farhadi. They have made moving films that bring us Westerners to tears. Some of them are jailed, some of them are banished, and some of them are now Academy Award winners, but all of them are unique and interesting and hopefully through their films and through other works of art they can change the restrictions of their country. With great repression comes great art.
The opening scene starts with the husband and wife sitting next to each other. They state their case to a disembodied voice, but really they are stating the circumstances of their relationship to the audience. We listen as they passionate argue and the words flash by on the screen just as fast as they produce them. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything they are saying, all that matters is that you get that she wants to starts a better life for her family which includes a daughter, and he wants to stay behind and care for his senile father. Although both pursuits are noble and right, which one is righter? (If I may use a word that sounds horrible) If you were like me, you were torn between which person is most in the right. If I were her, I would have left the country when I knew I was pregnant with a girl. However the husband staying behind and making sure that someone is willing to care for his father is very noble. He isn’t doing it for his happiness, just for his peace of mind. But at the same time, it might be because he is scared to start all over again in a different country that is completely different from the one that we presume he grew up in. Both of these sides are valid, but also damaging to their daughter. They both want what is best for their daughter who you can tell is loved by both parents very much. As the action unfolds, the damage upon this poor young thing becomes more and more apparent.
As a result of his wife moving out of the apartment, he hires a housekeeper to take care of his father while he is working. This housekeeper keeps from her husband that she is employed and keeps from this man the fact she is pregnant. Extremely devout, the woman consults an anonymous source every time a religious question comes up. For example, she sees that the senile grandfather has wet his pants. She must call this person and see if it is okay to undress him because he is unable to do it himself. Such things that should be a given are not so in such a repressed mind. In fact she is less worried about her children than her reputation with God that she refuses to do things that both her husband and normal people would demand of her and making the ending of the situation more poignant.
The performances here are what make the film so moving. Leila Hatami as Simin, Peyman Moadi as Nader and Sarina Farhadi as Termeh each feel for each other in ways that are complex and beautiful. Simin and Naher almost get back together at one point, but it is Termeh who decides to keep them separate because she believes in her father. At one point, Termeh is forced to lie for her father, and the reaction she has afterwards is so heartbreaking that the theater got a little dusty. (Just a little mind you…) It is one of the best performances I have seen by a child in a long time. I think it is because I believed she loved both of her parents very much and she acted very much like an eleven year old would in the situation she is put in.
If you are as curious as to the everyday life of Iranians, I suggest you watch this film. While depicting easily the most life defining moment of all of the characters’ lives, the film showcases the complexity of relationships in the many different capacities. Whether it is a father/son, mother/daughter, husband/wife or father/daughter, relationships are complex and dangerous. Just because people separate does not mean that they stop loving the other person. It is what makes relationships such a vibrant and rich area of study for filmmakers. It is also what makes this film so interesting to relish in and enjoy.