'A Separation' a unanimous favorite

CHAMPAIGN — As president of the respected Sony Pictures Classics, Michael Barker attends the Academy Awards ceremony every year. He's noticed that the category of best foreign film is highly competitive and the nominees are wary of each other.

That didn't happen at the 2011 Oscars presentation. During the preceding week, the nominees told Baker and others that "A Separation" deserved to win.

"I had never, never quite seen that before," Barker said while introducing the Iranian film Friday night at the 14th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign.

When "A Separation" was announced as the Oscar winner for foreign film earlier this year, the four rows of other nominees for best foreign film all rose to give director Asghar Farhadi a standing ovation.

"He turned around and saw that, and he had tears in his eyes," Barker related. "It's such a testament to the power of the film.

"It defies all odds."

Barker called the taut family drama a perfect film in every regard and Farhadi an amazing observer of social behaviors.

"You will see acting like you've never seen before," he said.

Indeed, Berlin Film Festival judges did not know which actor or actress in "A Separation" should receive the best actor award — the judges finally decided to give the award to the entire cast, Barker related. The judges also named "A Separation" best picture.

Farhadi, who also wrote the screenplay, wrote a role in "Separation" for his daughter, Sarina, who plays Termeh, the 11-year-old daughter of Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), a middle-aged Tehran couple.

The movie, which opens with both of them looking at the camera as Simin addresses an unseen judge and asks him to grant her a divorce from her husband, follows what happens after Simin leaves to live with her parents and Nader hires a lower-class, religious woman to care for his father, who has Alzheimer's.

Viewers of "A Separation," Barker said, quickly come to realize that people are the same everywhere.

"What's not the same are the governments," he said.

Barker also was part of the post-screening panel that discussed the movie. The others were movie critic and lawyer Nell Minow; Australian director Paul Cox; and Omer Mozaffar, a part-time instructor at Chicago area universities and one of Ebert's "far-flung correspondents."

Ebertfest organizers had hoped to bring in Moadi, the actor who played Nader. But Barker said they were unable to reach him by phone because he was making another film in a remote area of Iran.

Some festivalgoers felt the panel could have used a Iranian. However, Mozaffar, a Pakistani Chicagoan who teaches theology, mysticism, history and literature, seems knowledgeable of Iran and Persian culture.

At the end of the question-and-answer session, a woman in the balcony who identified herself as Iranian said the panelists had missed some aspects of Iranian life.

Iranians want the best for their children, she said.

"The family is extremely important," she added, pointing to scenes in "A Separation" that show that.

Iranian directors often make movies that revolve around children to get around the limitations imposed on them by government officials, she said, adding that "A Separation" offers an accurate portrayal of her country and she is glad so many people are seeing it.

Movie will be shown again

URBANA — If you missed the Oscar-winning film "A Separation" at Roger Ebert's Film Festival on Friday night, you have another chance to see it.

The Persian Cultural Association at the University of Illinois will show the movie, which won the 2011 Academy Award for best foreign film, for free at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 150 of the Animal Sciences Lab, 1207 W. Gregory Drive, U. Zohreh Sullivan, a professor emerita in the UI Department of English, will introduce the film.

Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian movie is about a well-educated, middle-class couple in Tehran who separate after the husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) refuses to leave the city. His wife Simin (Leila Hatami) has the opportunity to leave; she wants to offer a better life to their 10-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director's daughter).

They separate. Then Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to take care of his father, who has Alzheimer's. Extremely religious, Razieh calls an imam to see whether it's permissible for her to change his clothes when he is incontinent. Problems ensue.

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