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“A Separation,” reviewed


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So many movies let their characters off easy. They occupy universes of absurd moral clarity; good and bad, black and white. In contrast, nothing in the fascinating new Iranian movie “A Separation” is that simple. Every decision its characters are forced to make — and they’re forced to make a lot of them — is a difficult one. It’s not even a simple film to describe. Is it a legal thriller? A family drama? A character study? It’s all of those things and more.

The moral dilemmas begin in the very first scene, when married couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Naadi) appear in Islamic court. Simin wants to leave the country with their daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) and find a better life elsewhere. Nader prefers to stay, particularly because his father has advanced Alzheimer’s and needs constant care. So Simin asks for a divorce. Nader is willing to grant it, but he refuses to let Termeh leave as well. Who is right here? Who the hell knows.

Simin moves out and Nader is forced to hire a caretaker for his father on short notice. He winds up with Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devoutly religious woman. For Razieh, the commute to this job is too long and the pay is too low. But her husband is unemployed and owes some men money so she takes the position anyway. On her first day, Nader’s father wets himself, which forces Razieh to disrobe and clean him, a big no-no for a married Islamic woman. She wants to quit, but again, she needs the work. What should she do? Who the hell knows.

There are enough rock-and-a-hard-place choices in these early scenes to fill a month of Hollywood movies. But these early scenes are just the overture to writer/director Ashgar Farhadi‘s cinematic symphony of ethical complexity. One day, there is an accident at Nader’s home while Razieh is out. Is she to blame? Later Nader confronts Razieh and the two get into an argument. She falls and there are medical complications. Is he to blame? In a sense, the film is a modern day “Rashomon.” All these people witnessed this event, but no one can agree on exactly what happened. We were there too, and we might not agree either.

The acting is stunning, the screenplay is brilliant, and, as evidenced by the still above, Farhadi finds brilliant ways to visualize the growing rifts between all his various characters. Many later scenes take place back in Islamic court, a riveting place where there are no juries, trials sort of resemble high school debates, and the rule of law often seems to create more ambiguity, not less. Will you agree with the court’s ultimate decision? What do you think?

My advice would be to see “A Separation” as soon as you can, and with a big group of people. Just be prepared for a lot of different opinions after it’s over. Still that’s preferable to walking out of this movie with no one to talk to. That would not be easy.

“A Separation” opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday. If you see it, let us know what you think in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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