Iran. What do you think of? For me it is the image of a smiling is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which make me vaguely ill. For others perhaps it’s the images of youth standing up to authorities and the inevitable casualties of the Iranian Green Movement. Perhaps to some Iran symbolizes the perceived cultural chasm between us and them. They hate their girls; we love ours. They embrace religious ideology to the exclusion of reason; we don’t. Independent thought is met with crackdowns; independent thought flourishes where we live.
Whatever our images of Iran, few of them are positive. Even more important, few of our images are normal. They live in some unrecognizable place that is hot, dry, oppressive, and depressing.
And therein lies the brilliance of this weekend’s movie at the Goldtown Nickelodeon, “A Separation”. Life in Iran, or family life at least, is very recognizable.
This is not to say that “A Separation’s” depiction of family life would fit into a Tehranian Tourism Board’s effort to lure travelers. The country still looks hot and the driving is downright insane (no Western bias here at all). The film brings socioeconomic issues that would be familiar to most. But family is the point.
The family in question is undergoing martial strife, elder care issues, a smart daughter entering puberty, and an ongoing discussion on whether to leave Iran to provide their daughter a better life.
This may not be a positive depiction of a family, but it is recognizable. Most of us will deal with one or more of these issues at some point in our lives. Showcasing the normality, the normal dysfunction, of this family happens to the showcase the power of film. They are us and we are them. Their problems are our problems. And so perhaps lies the common ground to build a better relationship with Iran if and when the ideologues are toppled. Sure, that’s heady stuff, but this is an important little movie.
It’s within the specifics of the plot too that we find the relatively small but enlightening cultural and political differences. An example is the Iranian court system. As depicted, the Iranian court system is a fascinating place where all manner of conflict, from petty theft, to divorce, to murder are handled in a fashion that more resembles “The People’s Court” than a sober deliberation of reasoned arguments. And just when you start to get judgmental about their judicial system, you see an even-handedness to the proceedings, and it kind of makes sense. Everyone’s grievances are aired to a magistrate and equally considered. Which as to be difficult considering the party’s arguments are often stated at once and with volume. If not for the overworked, exacerbated, yet sharp magistrate the whole system would completely fall apart.
The plot involves good people lying. This is my favorite source of conflict. No villains, no good guys, just folks, trying to do the right thing. This is a story where two family’s understandable self interests clash. The story’s simplicity is good and not to be confused with laziness. “A Separation” deservedly won the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
See it, if only just to make the world a better place.
Subtitle warning: In some subtitled movies, one character speaks, then the next. This makes following the subtitles easy. Unfortunately, “A Separation” has a lot of folks talking fast and over each other. Following the subtitles can be tough. Fortunately, the straightforward plot will allow you to follow the film no problem.
This movie plays Thursday-Sunday at the Gold Town.