Great political movies (No34) Nader and Simin, A Separation

One of the things I realised at quite a young age is that people everywhere are essentially the same. Obviously there are differences of upbringing, traditions and customs, but fundamentally we have more in common then what separates us. However you wouldn’t always pick up on this from watching the news every night. The media should be a vehicle for communication between different cultures, allowing up to exchange ideas and discuss problems that affect all of us. Instead a lot of the time it seems intent on pointing out our differences and exaggerating them.

Take Iran for instance. If you watch a lot of US news (and I do), the impression you get of Iran is that their society is mostly made up of crowds of angry people calling for the downfall of the West, and this simply isn’t true. Large sections of Iran, especially those that live in major cities like Tehran, are prosperous and well-educated, living lives that are little different from people in places like Paris and London. As a result I was really pleased to see Nader and Simin, A Separation, because to all intents and purposes it’s a film whose plot could occur anywhere. It deals with universal issues like the search for justice and how class and religion divide us.

Nader and Simin are a reasonably well off middle class couple who are getting divorced. The reason for this is that Simin wishes to leave Iran with their eleven year old daughter Termeh, because she is worried about the worsening political situation. Nader however is unwilling to go with them because his elderly father suffers from Alzheimer’s and needs constant care. When the pair do split up he hires a working class woman called Razieh to look after his father while he’s at work. Razieh has her own problems, her husband is burdened by debts and because they are both fiercely religious she has kept it a secret from him that she is working at all. One day she has to go out so ties Nader’s father to his bed. He falls out injuring himself in the process. When Nader discovers this he is so upset that he pushes Razieh out of his apartment. She falls down a flight of stairs and subsequently has a miscarriage.

At this point the focus shifts to the Iranian legal system as it examines issues of responsibility, blame, and whether justice is best served by retribution or understanding. As a dissection of divisions in Iranian society I can’t imagine any film doing a better job. So universal are the themes here you could remake the entire movie in English with only a few changes.

I thought the film did an especially good job of highlighting the position of women in Iran, and how class plays such a major role in this. Simin being middle class has money of her own and a car giving her a degree of independence. Razieh is poor and economically exploited, both by her husband and Nader. Class and wealth are the biggest divisions here, not necessarily religion.

I’m fully prepared to admit at this point that the picture painted of Iran isn’t that flattering, especially their courts of law. I certainly wouldn’t want to end up in front of one. You can kind of see why Simin might have wanted to leave the country with her family.  That said, the film is a mature look at a complicated society that never crosses the line into pandering or melodrama.

Here is the trailer for Nader and Simin, A Separation:

For a full list of great political movies please click here

About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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