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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

A Separation


A Separation is an Iranian film, with English subtitles, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. It was released in March 2011. It won several international awards including a British Independent Film Award for Best Foreign Independent Film in 2011 and several at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2012 it won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. A Separation has gathered much critical acclaim and is the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. The film deals with marital breakup in a middle class Iranian family made up of husband Nader, his wife Simin, their daughter Termeh and Nader’s aging father, who lives with them and is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. The director’s real life daughter plays the eleven year-old Termeh.

A Separation

The Film

The film begins with a long single camera shot in which Nader and Simin are at the divorce court putting their respective cases to an unseen judge. Simin is petitioning for divorce on the grounds that her husband will not agree to leave Iran with her and their daughter to begin a new life in another country, where she and her daughter would have better opportunities to work and study as women. Nader explains that he cannot leave Iran as he is duty bound to care for his elderly father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and who needs twenty four hour care and supervision. Simin does not find satisfaction in the court and so moves out of the family home leaving Nader to care for their daughter and his father. As Nader must work, he is suddenly plunged into a dilemma about how to care for his father, daughter and the home without his wife to help. Reluctantly, he employs a devout working class woman, Razieh, from a distant part of town who needs to bring her own young daughter with her as she takes on the role of housekeeper and carer for Nader’s father. Razieh is desperate for money as her husband has lost his job and she finds herself haggling to negotiate her wages as Nader tries to pay her as little as he can. Both finally reach an agreement and Razieh gets the job, however she is not wholly prepared for what the job actually involves. A Separation presents an interesting dilemma for Razieh as she suddenly encounters the need to give intimate personal care to Nader’s father after an episode of incontinence whilst still obeying her religious guidelines. Razieh, unsure of how to proceed, decides to phone her Imam to consult on whether she can go ahead and change the elderly man in her role as his carer.


At this point the scene is set for the main theme of the film to be developed when a clash occurs between the increasingly stressed Nader and his struggling employee Razieh, in an angry spur of the moment incident, which results in both families ending up in court. As viewers we are invited to be observers of the evidence and to form our own judgement as we join the studiously watchful daughter Termeh as she tries to work out whether her father is telling the truth or not. Termeh is forced to learn a lot more about the complexities of the adult world than she would wish at her age. I do not want to reveal any more details about the plot because this is a film to watch without preformed ideas. As it unfolds, it invites viewers to reach their own conclusions about all of the major characters within the drama.


Relevance to the field of Mental Health

This film cleverly involves the viewer from its outset as an observer and a judge of what is right or wrong in a variety of different situations. It poses more questions than it gives us answers and invites us to decide where we stand on a range of familiar and unfamiliar issues, given that the film is set in Iran, which is a theocracy. From the opening scene in the Iranian courtroom when both Nader and Simin put their case to camera, in lieu of the judge, we are intimately involved in the dilemmas of all of the main characters. Attempting to understand the struggles that other people are having in their lives, separating truth from untruth in people’s accounts, and identifying which events have acted as triggers for an episode of mental ill health, are often at the core of our work in psychiatry and psychotherapy assessments and can be especially challenging in our increasingly multicultural society. A Separation offers an incredibly rich experience that shows us the universality of suffering and mental turmoil in a culture that may be unfamiliar to many non-Iranian viewers. The effect of parental separation on an eleven year-old girl, brilliantly portrayed here, and the strain within a family of caring for an elderly relative suffering from dementia, are shown to be no different in this Muslim middle class family than in one beyond Iran.


As a platform for discussion about the effects of stressful life events on mental health and well being, A Separation is compelling from beginning to end and the presence of subtitles is soon forgotten as the viewer is drawn in to its excellent psychological drama. I would highly recommend this film for anyone involved in working in mental health, especially those working with ethnically diverse communities.


•  More information about A Separation is available at IMDB and a short trailer is available here.

•  The film can be purchased at

•  Minds on Film is written by consultant psychiatrist Dr Joyce Almeida.


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About this blog


Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.