Friday, February 17, 2012

A Separation REVIEW

Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation has earned the kind of near-universal acclaim most movies can only dream about. I should add that “near-universal acclaim” is something that excites me as a moviegoer but also arouses my suspicion. Seeing other critics salivate so openly makes it easy to get ones hopes up. In the case of The Artist, which garnered plenty of year-end attention in 2011 and is poised to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscar’s ceremony, I was disappointed. But with Farhadi’s film, I left the theater in awe and a little but exhausted. Last year had many good films, but none that put me through the wringer quite like this.

A Separation is like a thriller in some ways--specifically a legal thriller--while in others it’s a family drama. But I hate the idea of pigeonholing it too much. Especially because Farhadi’s film has the potential to break through borders of all kinds, whether of genre, nationality, or even that firm but tenuous line between the art house crowd and the mainstream moviegoer. Were it not for the language barrier and America’s political and religious baggage with Iran, it might be this year’s Oscar front-runner instead of The Artist--it has that kind of potential.

Unfortunately, I’m worried that a certain “us-vs-them” mentality will prevail, even though such an attitude ignores what A Separation really has to say. Broadly speaking, Farhadi’s characters act in ways that aren't all that different from the way anyone might behave--meaning they engage in the same prideful, self-justifying behavior we all do when we’re pushed into a corner. It’s human nature. And in the case of A Separation, it’s what gives the movie its air of truth. This is us. This is how we behave.

What A Separation ultimately does, then, is shrink the world without erasing our difference. It’s very much of its time and place, but it speaks to our same vulnerabilities and our need to protect our own safety, our own interests.

Farhadi achieves by largely doing away with the kind of protagonist-antagonist division we’re used to. He gives us a multifaceted view instead, making it hard to side with one character over another. Everyone bears some of the storytelling burden and shares some of the blame for the tragedy that occurs. Which isn’t to say that we don’t have anyone to root for--only that every character has, at some point, a moment in which our opinion of them is refined or revised. Farhadi wants us to empathize with his characters--not judge them--and by empathizing, to learn compassion and understanding. One need only look at our own political climate to see how bereft of empathy and compassion we are. The us-vs-them mentality isn’t limited to foreign policy--it’s how we view our next-door neighbor, or the guy who cuts us off in traffic. Our worlds are often limited to only our own perspective, but when we’re able to see all sides of a story, our understanding can grow, and our empathy along with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment