When one is in the mood to rent a movie, it’s not often one thinks, “I would love to watch a two hour Iranian slice-of-life film,” when what one normally thinks is, “I would love to watch some shit blow up in big, pretty fireballs, and I would love to watch Bruce Willis blow that shit up. Also, are there titties?” Well, I might think that. Or I might think a meaningful drama sounds good, but preferably one from the ‘70s, directed by Coppola/Scorsese/Ashby/Lumet.
And so anyway, the Iranian film A Separation (2011), when it arrived from Netflix, sat around for a month before I got around to watching it.
Let me just say: holy fucking bejeebus.
A Separation is a great movie. I was floored. It is indeed somewhat in the slice-of-life genre. Nothing blows up. Bruce Willis does not look after a helpless orphan nor does he travel back in time to witness and/or prevent his own death. It is about an Iranian couple on their way to divorce. That’s the big picture. Or then again, let’s say it’s the underlying picture. On top is a more intense drama, the nature of which I’m not about to spoil.
The movie looks great from scene one. The acting is natural. It feels real. A family is suffering, yet you won’t know where the movie is going. You will fear you’re in for a long haul of plotless realism. I did. About thirty minutes in, the movie clicks into place. Mind you, everything in that first half hour is important. You just didn’t know it.
The movie proceeds to turn its screws tighter and tighter. You think you get it, and then realize no, it’s not about what you thought it was about. It works its way to the end, and then—the movie does something so very small and simple and effective as to seem miraculous. Moviemakers dream of having scenes this powerful ending their films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where even though I know there’s nothing waiting for me, I watch the credits to the end, just in case. You will too.
There is not a single saccharine moment in here. No obnoxious swells of emotionally manipulative music. No one explaining at length the lessons learned. It is what it is. Check it out.