Asghar Farhadi’s magnificent directorial debut asks one central question; how is it possible to take decisions and not be selfish, particularly in the family? When Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) abroad for a better life, her husband, Nader (Peyman Moaadi), won’t go. His father to whom is devoted has Alzheimer’s, and Nader will not leave him. So Simin moves out, and Nader hires a woman to look after the father and clean the house, Razieh (Sareh Bayat).
The film maker this most reminded me of was late Bergman, with more than a dash of Hitchcock. This is an intimate and devastating portrait of decisions taken around a marriage which spiral out of control and have criminal and legal implications. Those implications arise out of a central confrontation between Nader and Razieh. And that confrontation, in turn, arises out of the class tensions between the middleclass and somewhat bumbling Nader and Razieh who is so desperate for the money that she will bring her little daughter on a 90 minute commute to the job. So the film not only explores the class divide in the very modern city that is Tehran, but it also explores gender and religious divides. The orthodox Razieh phones an Islamic helpline to find out if it is possible for her to help the incontinent grandfather.
Not least of the wonders of this film are the two daughters, Termeh, and Razieh’s very young daughter, Sorayeh, who have moments of real closeness and friendship, not least around a game of table football. And the performances of the two girls who play them are truly astonishing: Termeh’s stoic silence while around her adults descend into profound moral chaos, which at one moment drags her into lying to a judge. And the small Sorayeh, who has a facial range that most adult actors could only envy.
However, all the performances in this wonderful film are beautiful and their naturalness is deeply affecting. And where Iranian film has often dumped plot and opted for atmosphere and vision, this has a complex, yet profoundly satisfying story. It leaves you wondering if you will ever see a more adult and intelligent film all year.