In the 2011 Iranian film A Separation filmmaker Asghar Farhadi tells a straightforward story. Simin files for a divorce from her husband Nader, when he refuses to leave his aging father in Iran and immigrate to the West. Nader hires Razieh to take care of his father during the day when he works in a bank. But on finding his father missing from his bed one evening, he rough handles Razieh and pushes her out of his house. He later finds out that he has possibly caused her miscarriage. When asked to appear before a court, he realizes that he faces murder charges, which could lead to imprisonment and a fine (blood money). Tragically, the only witness in the case is his own daughter, Termeh, who is staying with him until the divorce is finalized.
The film is not about this accidental abortion, but the incident plays a pivotal role in this drama that explores the hopes and fears that motivate human beings to act as they do. The movie particularly explores the lives of two people: Nader, whose conviction could take him away from the lives his wife, young daughter and aging father; and Razieh, who might be trying to frame Nader to avoid the consequences of having to claim responsibility for the miscarriage.
The movie’s strength lies in the subtle screenplay. The film does not question the fairness of the abortion law; in fact, the director takes the law for granted. The characters do not even wish for an alteration in the law; they seem to realize that such a wish would be futile. But as the protagonists thrash around in a net woven very tightly around them by the law and by religion, the audience is forced to wonder if Razieh would have no grounds for lying or that Nader would have no need to prove her to be a liar, if the abortion were viewed differently.
The fairness of the law comes into question, as does the role of religion in the restrictions and penalties stapled to the abortion law. In spite of the many restrictions Iran’s abortion law is in fact more liberal than the law in several other countries in Asia: women are allowed to have an abortion up to 12 weeks should the pregnancy threaten their physical well-being, or if the fetus has anomalies. They do not need the permission of their husbands. And yet, the assumption that the fetus beyond those 12 weeks is a person, with all rights that come attached to personhood is the very fact that threatens the protagonists of the film.
The film also is a sterling example of a situation in which the personal becomes the political. Sentiments people hold turn into statements in the court of law, as the two parties struggle to convince the judge of their version of the truth. Nader and Simin belong to a less religious and more educated elite class: while they both struggle to come to terms with the manhandling, both of them do not seem to think of the miscarriage as murder. They offer to pay the blood money mostly because the law requires them to do so and because of the manhandling, but not because they seem to believe that abortion or miscarriage is a sin. Razieh and her husband Hojjat lean heavily on religion, and seem to value the loss of the pregnancy above the fact that she was bodily violated.
A Separation has a sincere voice and is truly deserving of the Academy Award (Best Foreign Language Film) it received in 2012. It is not a prochoice or an anti-choice movie, and not even a movie about abortion. But it shows that the politics of abortion cannot be limited to such binaries. Here is a teaser of this film, and if you have not watched it yet, do try and watch it as soon as you can.