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Getting Picky: NYFF 2011’s A Separation

Out reports from the 2011 New York Film Festival on the forthcoming indie films you won't want to miss.

A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

See A Separation as soon as it hit theaters this December (or this weekend at NYFF if possible). Not only will the Iranian film likely make the shortlist of foreign Oscar contenders this January, it's one of the most compelling, heart-wrenching films of the year. In it, characters seek justice--of legal, moral, religious kinds--for the ways they've been wronged, but only find themselves further entrenched in moral ambiguity. "From my point of view, this is a detective story," said Farhadi last Wednesday at a press screening. And much like a good whodunit, the narrative hides just enough to keep the audience on edge.

In A Separation, two related conflicts unfold simultaneously: one involving a girl (Termeh) who must moderate her parents' (Simin and Nader) opposing views on whether to leave Iran permanently; the other pertaining to a woman (Razieh) hired to look after Termeh's grandfather, who in is an advanced stage of Alzheimer's. One tragedy occurs in the family's home, which sets off another. But the audience does not witness either. Both matters are pursued in court, where each character tries desperately to steer blame away from themselves or the ones they side with.

How apt, in a film where reconstructing memory is so essential, that the character at the center of this film is the one with Alzheimer's. The viewers will doubt themselves, will find themselves torn between different versions of truth, will have snap judgments one minute and break then the next. Farhadi's immense skill at rendering all his subjects' faults empathetically creates an experience for the viewer that is both mystifying and transcendently honest.

A Separation is being shown this weekend, October 2 and 3, at the New York Film Festival It will premiere in New York City and Los Angeles on December 30.

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Mike Berlin