The author of Reading Lolita in Tehran talks about a raved-about new film from her home country.
Sony Picture Classics
As with the escalating tension between Washington and Tehran, it's hard to assign blame to a single character in Oscar-nominated Iranian drama A Separation for an explosive chain of events that threaten devastation.
Simin (Leila Hatami) threatens to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) if he won't walk away from his Alzheimer's-afflicted father to pursue a better life abroad for their daughter Termeh. Nader pushes his father's pregnant caretaker Razieh (Sareh Bayat) down some stairs after she perpetrates an unspeakable act of neglect, and it is up to the Islamic Republic's court system to decide whether Nader's blow terminated her pregnancy.
What follows is an almost dizzying attribution of blame to different characters in the film, all of whom at the end appear imperfect and human. Just as soon as the narrative finds one character guilty, he or she is redeemed by an act of compassion, and the blame shifts to another player. Of course, this is how war starts: as a dizzying exchange of blame between a variety of painfully flawed parties.
The film is making its way through American theaters in the wake of a Golden Globe win and two Oscar nominations—including a nod for Best Original Screenplay, rare for a foreign-language film. The awards buzz certainly seemed to be paying off at the theater I visited earlier this month in Maryland, where a Friday-night showing was entirely sold out. Not bad for a subtitled flick about, in part, Iran's judicial system