ON LOCATION: A Separation

Trouble begins at home in Asghar Farhadi’s drama. By Louis Rogers

 

The critical moment in A Separation – the one on which the plot turns, which is pored over and debated until the final scenes – takes place at a threshold, namely the frosted glass doors of Simin and Nader’s Tehran apartment. When Nader pushes his new housekeeper Razieh out of the apartment, the camera stays inside, oblivious to the crucial and much contested details of her fall. A precedent is set for the significance of barriers and thresholds throughout the film: the walls of the apartment are pressed up against and listened through; the camera’s view, like that of the characters, often partially obscured by interior architecture. 

These barriers hide secrets, but they also enforce social boundaries: delineating the space that belongs to well-off Simin and Nader and within which Razieh is subservient. When Razieh first visits, her young daughter Somayeh presses her nose up against the glass door. The murky shapes discernible through the frosted glass become emblematic of the shadowy details and structural obfuscations that drive the plot.

Nearly all the film’s important action takes place in this apartment (and at the end another, very different one) before it is debated at the courthouse. It becomes the film’s stage, a space whose contours and character grow familiar. Here director Asghar Farhadi’s background in theatre, and his love for domestically set plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman, shows through. 

This particular stage is also a recently ruptured family home, and perhaps most of all it comes to represent the space Simin and Nader share with their daughter, Termeh: the uneasily overlapping worlds of childhood and adulthood. Nader might tell Termeh to go to her room, but the commonality of the space isn’t easily surmounted: walls are heard through, corners peeked around, and power struggles play out between adult and juvenile claims to authority. In last week’s TANK TV film, The 400 Blows, the young hero Antoine shared a cramped two-room Paris flat with his parents, also unavoidably embroiled in their personal dramas. Similarly attuned to the dynamics of domestic space, A Separation reminds us that our first encounters with the thorny adult world don’t require flying the nest, but start at home.

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