Nader and Simin have been married for 14 years and live with their 11-year-old daughter Termeh in Tehran. The family belongs to the urban upper middle-class and the couple is on the verge of separation. Simin wants to leave the country with her husband and daughter, as she does not want Termeh to grow up under the prevailing conditions. This desire is not shared by Nader. He is concerned for his elderly father, who lives with the family and suffers from Alzheimer's disease. When Nader decides to stay in Iran, Simin files for divorce.
The family court judges the couple's problems insufficient to warrant divorce and rejects Simin's application. Simin leaves her husband and daughter and moves back in with her parents. On the recommendation of his wife, Nader hires Razieh, a young, deeply religious woman from a poor suburb, to take care of his father while he works at a bank. Razieh has applied for the job without consulting her hot-tempered husband Hodjat, whose approval, according to tradition, would have been required. Her family is financially dependent on the work, and she takes her daughter to the house with her.
Razieh soon becomes overwhelmed by taking care of Nader's father, which is physically and emotionally demanding. On the first day of work, when she finds that the old man is incontinent, she phones a religious hotline to ask if it would be a sin for her to clean him. Assured that it would be acceptable, she continues in the job, but later hopes to get her husband into the position, without revealing that she had first worked there. She finds the work very heavy, especially as she is pregnant. Nader interviews Hodjat and hires him, but Hodjat, who is heavily in debt, is jailed by his creditors on the day he is due to start, and so Razieh returns to work for Nader......
Through the difficulties of one couple, director Asghar Farhadi illustrates the schism between the classes in contemporary Iran. The spiral of complications begins when Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) separate, because she wants to give 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) a better life abroad and he wants to stay in Tehran to care for his father, who has Alzheimer's disease. Though Termeh would prefer to live with Simin, she remains with Nader in hopes to encourage reconciliation. After Simin moves back in with her mother, Nader hires housekeeper Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who quits when she finds out she has to assist his father with intimate matters, which doesn't square with her religion, so she arranges for her husband to take her place, but he's struggling with his creditors again. Out of desperation, Razieh returns, but then she loses track of the old man, gets into a fight with Nader, and ends up in the hospital. Nader insists he didn't know she was pregnant and had nothing to do with her fall, but the case proceeds to court, one of three trials in the film. The middle-class couple appears to have all the power, except the ensuing web of lies and omissions leaves everyone at some kind of a loss. A Separation isn't, in other words, a happy story, but Farhadi spins out the various twists and turns in an expertly directed, beautifully acted manner, fulfilling the promise of his earlier domestic dramas, like Fireworks Wednesday. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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