Azar Nafisi and Robin Wright Discuss 'A Separation'

Nafisi responded:

Hi, Robin,

I am so glad we are having this conversation, which has made me want to try and see it again. It is very important what you point out about values and self-interest and all those other splits.

I also agree with your wonderful insight about lying and of course that lying can become a metaphor for the bigger, social and political lie they live in. What I found interesting is that often making choices is presented as something heroic, and in fact the reality is that it is often fraught with lies, especially in desperate conditions, and there is a great deal of anguish and there is no right or wrong choice, I mean in the moral sense at least.

In the film, almost everyone has to make a choice, and almost every major character is placed within a desperate situation where their livelihood, their future, and future of those they love are at stake. And they lie, even minor characters like the teacher who lies to the judge in order to protect her student's father. But this is not simply about ends justifying the means; things are more complicated. In case of the traditional woman (Razieh) who takes care of the Alzheimer patient, should she lie to her husband and work without his permission in order to save her family from utter poverty? And in another instance should she lie in order to get money under false pretenses to save her family from the creditors and her husband from going to jail just because he cannot find a job? The concrete social and economic conditions in her country and her own personal life constantly pit her faith against the attempt to just barely survive (her husband alludes to justice being blind to his complaints when he was thrown out of this job). She lies to her husband, but of course cannot lie against her faith. Also from a different perspective, the secular teacher who swears to a lie on Koran, when later confronted by her accusers, feels bad enough to recant her testimony.

In both cases these two women with different values and backgrounds first lie, but in the end make a choice that despite all the dire consequences is the right thing for them to do. Thus these imperfect characters might not always win our approval, but they gain our sympathy and understanding. For different audiences, no matter where they come from, the film poses a question: What would we have done in their place?

In both my books I talk about this, about the fact that the worst part of living in Islamic Republic was the constant lying, the negation of who you were and what you valued. It made you feel dirty. More painful than that for me was my own family relations, the feeling of guilt and complicity. It is not just about the end justifies the means, it is also about a sense of captivity, of having nowhere to go and that is also what made me empathize with each and every one of these characters...

I am so glad you brought to my attention the tenderness aspect of the film, I had thought I needed to see it again, because for some reason I was not sure of some of the body language... but the points you make are great. And in support of what you say, not just in terms of father and son, but the mother also is trying to "save" her daughter, and the daughter is entangled because she cares for her parents. They all do care a great deal about one another, and yet I was not sure of love for example between husband and wife. I cannot articulate but somehow in that relationship I was looking for something else as well. It might have been the gestures, it might have been that the tension overwhelmed everything else. I was looking at their past, some residue. There is so much to say, and thank you for reminding me of these so essential points.

For me of course, whenever there is a film, a book, a work of art, anything that is true to itself, without letting the politics dominate, that is so important. This film showing us not just how different we are but how much we share, how much we can empathize as individuals was my concern.

Regarding the girl, I really am not sure, really, I can see your point, maybe deep down I wanted her to go with her mother, and so to be "fair" I gave a different verdict. Because I did also feel for her father. When in Iran, this point constantly came up between husbands and wives, and it was usually the wives who wanted to leave. In fact in my own case, it almost led to divorce, and yet I did love my husband, and I felt terribly pained and anguished at the thought of leaving Iran, so I think in the interview, I was also thinking about this, about Simin's "choice" and the price not just she but everyone else had to pay for it.

Presented by

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

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