MY FINDING IS THAT YOUR PROBLEM is a small problem,” a judge tells Simin and her husband, Nader, from offscreen during the divorce hearing that opens A Separation (Jodái-e Náder az Simin, or The Separation of Nader from Simin; 2011). Nader has already made for the door. Simin, her red hair barely covered by a loosely-draped headscarf, levels her stare at the judge, whose perspective is that of the camera. When Simin, her face shot in medium close-up, looks directly into the camera, she does not break the fourth wall so much as challenge its very viability. Distance, her look says, has no place here. You are implicated from the start, compelled to stay close.
Simin has brought Nader before the court to sue for divorce. After six months of effort, she secured visas for them and their 10-year-old daughter, Termeh, to leave Iran and restart their lives in an unnamed country abroad. But Nader refuses to leave. His father has Alzheimer’s and he feels bound by responsibility to remain in Tehran. Simin wants Termeh to come with her because, she explains to the judge, “As a mother, I’d rather she didn’t grow up in these circumstances.” Nader will not grant permission for Termeh to go; he says his daughter wants to stay with him. The judge says the law has no mechanism for resolving family problems.
Simin leaves Nader and Termeh and goes to stay with her parents, and Nader, who works through the day, hires Razieh, a devout Muslim woman, to look after his father. Razieh keeps her work a secret from her husband, Hodjat—who has fallen into a depression after losing his job—knowing that he will disapprove of her working for a single man. One day, Nader and Termeh return to the apartment to find Razieh gone and the old man’s wrist tied to the bed. When Razieh returns, Nader pushes her out of the house. Razieh, pregnant, falls on the stairs and miscarries. Nader is charged with the murder of her child.