Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:23 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 14:23 | SYDNEY

A Separation: Artistry for peace

22 March 2012 08:59

Geraldine Doogue is host of ABC Radio National's Saturday Extra program.

In 2010 I suggested in this space that a good way of forging better understanding between Australians and other citizens of our region was to report common dilemmas facing all our societies, rather than emphasising the policy gaps between us.

I suggested that in the areas of health, nutrition, attitudes to drugs, family authority and community volunteering, Australia and, say, Malaysia or South Korea shared lots of challenges that were keeping their authorities up at night. As globalisation arrives at all shores, the need for citizens to adapt super-fast, keep communities eating well, exercise, balance work and home, manage technology plus relationships stretches all societies. These are works-in-progress, with much still to be resolved.

Surely this makes for good story-telling. My argument is that it certainly competes with the more traditional 'look-for-the-exotic-bit-of-difference' that has dominated our journalism in the First World; the notion of seeking out the tale (often accompanied by arresting imagery) that proves that the  gaps between developed and developing countries are still (reassuringly) wide. 

In fact, there's much that is shared in the broad, if not in the detail. I do believe this changed approach could contribute significantly to positioning Australians better within the region. To my delight, I saw perfect evidence of it in a brilliant film, 'A Separation', last Saturday night.

Made by an Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, 'A Separation' sketches the breakdown of a middle-class Iranian marriage (plus 11-year-old daughter) in contemporary Tehran. It pitches this family against a working-class Tehran family via a woman who comes to look after the man, his daughter and his Alzheimers-ridden father after the wife leaves.

I won't spoil the complicated plot by revealing too much more. But cinematically, it is one of the best-told narratives I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, unfolding just like life, with all its searing complications.

The film is about so many things that pre-occupy most of us: about modern love and commitment, duties to aging parents versus children, about class differences, dignity, gaps between the educated and the uneducated and about hurrying through life; about trying to do-and have-it-all. Powerfully, it oscillates back-and-forward between the decisions and follies of essentially good people. If you're looking for neat goodies and baddies, don't go.These are real people and the end is utterly believable and open to debate, amid its bleakness.

But above all, it speaks eloquently to us all, in our modern condition. After two hours, I challenge anyone to emerge with quite the same attitudes about Iran that they took into the cinema with them. Its utter absence of propagandising (despite the wife's desire to leave her country...but why really, we're left wondering?) speaks volumes about the complexity of Iranian society, exactly what I've read about but had to imagine. Whereas here was proof. To produce the script and through-line, let alone the technique involved, says a great deal about the experience of the production team trying to live a good life in 21st century Iran....with nary a word needing to be uttered about people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah Khamanei or the nuclear program.

The shared dilemmas on display won't leave my imagination very fast and will influence my future reading of the headlines, I am certain. This was artistry that can enhance peace. I urge you to see it.