When we think about Iranian cinema, we tend to think of filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, or Jafar Panahi - auteurs that tell small fables full of political subtext and subtle cultural reverence. Yet "A Separation", from filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (and the winner of last year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar,) may as well be a crowd-pleaser in comparison. Yes, the tale - about a request for divorce, and the community influence that both precipitated and derives from the decision - is full of national criticism and political overtones. But the fast pace, the never-ending twists and turns of the script, and the bullet-fast reveals render "A Separation" more of a thriller than a political reverie.
Nader and Simin seem to accept the fact that they live in an undesirable place, but their priorities are split. Nader refuses to leave his almost-invalid father, while Simin sees the relocation of their daughter to a more liberal country as their moral responsibility. The film deals not in their emotions but in the ripple effect of their decisions; as a few slight changes in their daily lives (the hiring of a nurse, say) upend entire families and traditions. The way the plot turns on such a tiny axis, constantly revealing new information and reframing character motivations, recalls nothing less than "The Earrings of Madame De..." But "A Separation," with its stately compositions and intricate blocking, is an experience all its own.
The Blu-ray disc comes with a highly recommended commentary track with Farhadi (it's subtitled in English) where he informs you about his past work and common themes while also pleasing you to interpret the movie for yourself (other, less substantial features include some behind-the-scenes featurettes and trailers.) One of last year's best films, and now packed with illuminating extra features, "A Separation" is an audacious provocation, waiting to be seen.