Azar Nafisi and Robin Wright Discuss 'A Separation'

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An Iranian-American author and a foreign correspondent on the lessons of Iran's Oscar-nominated family drama

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Sony Picture Classics

Iran's A Separation has sparked critical praise ("one of the most dazzlingly complex, and morally provocative, domestic dramas that I have ever seen"), Oscar nominations (for Best Foreign Film and, impressively, Best Original Screenplay), and, moreover, conversation. A recent Atlantic interview with author Dr. Azar Nafisi, author of the bestselling-in-the-U.S. Reading Lolita in Tehran, launched a correspondence with her friend Robin Wright, who has been covering Iran as a foreign correspondent since 1973. As Iranian and non-Iranian Americans, their correspondence reflects the diverse interpretations of a film they both deeply admired.

The following is part of their conversation, including an interview with Wright about the politics and timing of the film.


Hi, Azar,

What I found so interesting about your Atlantic interview was how we saw this movie from very different angles. For me, A Separation was all about lying, and how it started out as the ends justifying the means. The characters then ended up getting so trapped in their lies that the lying got deeper and deeper and became outright betrayal of those they loved or the things they believed in. Virtually everyone lied. And the lies were all perpetuated to each character's own detriment.

So "the separation" played out not only in terms of the parents' split and the daughter's choice of which parent to live with and the caregiver/mother's loss of her child and the husband's loss of his father to Alzheimer's, but also the separation between truth and falsehood, values and self-interest.

I think the daughter wanted to stay with her father but his betrayal was so basic or profound that all of her affection for him could not compensate. She wept because she went with her mother, which meant leaving Iran—and not seeing her father.

But so far I haven't found a single person who agrees with me!

On your question about tenderness, I thought there was enormous tenderness in little touches too-the mother for her father-in-law with Alzheimer's, the pregnant woman for her erratic or deranged husband, the pregnant woman for her Alzheimer-afflicted client, the father for his own ailing father, everyone for the little girl. There was so much more genuine and raw if conflicted feeling in this movie than in most American movies. It's what so often makes Iranian films great. There's a honesty about imperfections.

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Massoud Hayoun is a digital-news producer for Al Jazeera America.

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