A Separation (2011)
First off, don't let the Oscar hype confuse you. This is a good film, though not a great one. The simple, minimalist story made on a tight budget is compelling, at times riveting, to watch, but this is down to the simple script, story and direction. It struck me nearly an hour into its two hour running time that the acting was what was letting it down a touch. I am repeatedly bemused that films made in the English language of this quality are not as heralded as those in a foreign language, as if to say that all foreign films are made by backwater hooligans and inebriate morons. Often, foreign films are mistaken for classics simply because they resonate with a western audience enough to be enjoyed or appreciated. Not simply because they are great. As I say, A Separation is a good film, but it is not a great one in any language.
Following the strife of a couple in the midst of divorce, the trials of their daughter and the responsibilities of the husband to look after his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's, you know early on that you are not in for too many laughs. In fact, there aren't any. Not one, anywhere. So it's not a comedy, then.
A Separation is a sober and interesting (if understated) study of the effect that an alleged crime can have on a family that is already going through a crisis of their own. The film is superbly written and the script is careful where it takes the viewer and when it goes there. The Iranian setting highlights the differences between the way Hollywood defines law-breaking and how it is actually dealt with. In this respect, there is something to be gleaned from the film. Many low-budget, independent films (foreign or otherwise) take a gritty, low-brow, overbearing theme in order to compensate for their lack of subtlety. Not so here. Whilst the film has its share of violence, this is never a reason on its own for committing it to film. The very subdued hints at violence, are domestic throughout, short and coming off the back of very real and understandable bursts of emotion when there is no other option for the character in question.
Many people that dislike foreign films per se, could easily cite this effort as a classical reason why. The scenes are largely quiet, carefully constructed with a complicated enough storyline to annoy the casual observer and it contains little that the 'regular' movie fan would appreciate. Plus, they would be forced to read what is going on too.
All told, A Separation is a fascinating film that is let down only by the quality of the acting, which at times borders on an episode of EastEnders. Often depressing, with average performances and occasional outbursts of emotion. The film is not bad at all, but this reviewer is judging its merits on film in general and not on films made only by people that don't use English as a first language. Whether this film would have received the same plaudits it is currently enjoying if it was made on a council estate in England, for example, is unlikely.