From the comfort of a house in a suburb of a major city in a Western nation, Iran can feel like a world away. Correspondents and embedded journalists and bureau chiefs and talking heads come to you in-studio and live via satellite to educate you about a country that, to them, is a character in an international political stage show. They inform you that Iran is a set of problems to be solved; an oppressive quagmire of religious fanaticism and anti-Western sentiment; a colossal desert, strategically important but otherwise uninteresting.
And then you see a film like A Separation, and you’re reminded that behind the blockades and trade sanctions and military one-upmanship, behind the curtain, there are people there. Regular people living in regular cities, experiencing joy and sadness and tension and grief, people struggling to get by, people marrying and having children and retiring. People separating.
We are divided by such a vast physical and political chasm that it can feel like we’re different species, with language and cultural differences erecting insurmountable walls between us.
But through the shared language of cinema and with the deft guidance of a master filmmaker, it’s possible to discover that our differences are no more important than our similarities.
Through the prism of a single family’s difficulty dealing with a fractured relationship, A Separation encapsulates the dualities and contradictions inherent in human existence at its basest level, and how our desires and feelings and possessions and relationships – our lives – are at once monumentally important and also totally meaningless.
Or as Calvin succinctly put it, “’I’m significant,’ screamed the dust speck.”
Jafar Panahi’s remarkable documentary This is not a Film demonstrates not only the artistic spirit essential to dismantling cross-cultural walls, but also the obstacles placed in the way of that ideal by those with conflicting interests.
Asghar Farhadi navigates those obstacles to achieve his goal in a remarkably powerful way, taking the almost incomprehensible enormity of human emotion and experience from a specifically Iranian point of view and distilling it into a snapshot relatable even to people half a world away.
His film A Separation isn’t just an important work of cinema; it’s an important work of religious-humanistic endeavour.
And it’s a film that people the world over should see.