I went to school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was a frequent attendee at the Michigan Theater, a local independent theater. This place was great: you could see The Gold Rush (complete with live organ music!) on Sunday, the latest indie and foreign films Monday through Friday, and then Aliens at midnight on Saturday. I’ve never found another theater as good, and in the intervening years it has become increasingly harder to see foreign movies in the theater – or convince myself to rent them on iTunes. So I sadly hadn’t seen one in quite a while until A Separation. Which I’m kind of kicking myself for, since it’s the best movie I’ve seen since I’ve started this blog, and probably one of the best movies I’ve seen, period.
The camera work (by Iran’s top cinematographer, Mahmood Kalari) anchors the film. When the camera’s stationary, it lingers on the actors for what feels like hours. When it’s handheld – and it’s only handheld when it needs to be – it peers over shoulders, pans down the stairs in an apartment building, and moves from room to room with the action. As I mentioned in my post on Birdman, long average shot lengths and a lack of gimmicks really make a movie feel “real” to me.
The performances, although subtle, were powerful (although I must admit that I don’t speak Farsi and thus have a tin ear for how natural the dialogue may sound in the original). But even from a subtitle-reader’s point of view, nothing seemed either too over the top or too flat – just real.
It cracked me up to see that a few “users” posted reviews on Metacritic complaining that nothing happened in the movie. To me, that’s the realest (most real? I’m never sure) part. Their complaint should be that nothing exciting happened, because it doesn’t. But real life is rarely exciting. Instead, it’s composed of the kind of causes, effects, and unintended consequences that drive A Separation‘s plot. And like all great movies, the universality of that plot cuts across the foreignness of its setting and makes it feel just as real here as it likely did in Tehran. The separation in the title only features prominently in the first and last scenes, although it affects everything that happens. The final scene, easily the most powerful in the film, couldn’t be more anticlimactic or leave the plot any less resolved. And I love the fact that the missing money, which drives the entire second half of the film, is never explained (it’s the money the wife pays to the movers at the beginning).
This post took me forever to write (I started it March 18) and is the shortest yet. To be honest, there isn’t much to say about A Separation other than “it’s amazing.” And don’t take my word for it: it’s the best-reviewed movie for 2011 on Metacritic – even including the aforementioned “users” – and was second on The AV Club‘s best films of 2010-2015.