A Separation

If you want a pretty reliable guide to the best films over the past few years, then there are worst places to start than with the winners of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

In fact, you could do a lot worse than the list of nominations as it is universally of a far higher standard than the nominations for the main prize.

In recent years winners have included hush favourites like The Lives Of Others, The Counterfeiters, The Sea Inside and The Secret In Their Eyes, while runners-up have included Sophie Scholl, After The Wedding, Paradise Now and Revanche.

As long as you don’t mind subtitles (or speak 27 different languages), it’s a rich seam to mine.

And this year’s winner is no exception. A Separation is an Iranian film about a married couple torn apart by the wife’s desire to move abroad to make a better life for her child and the husband’s sense of duty to his elderly father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Given that most of what we see and hear of Iran is overwhelmingly negative and in caricature, the film is that much more poignant in the universality of the themes with which it deals – filial duty, honesty, desire, illness etc.

The film gets off to quite a slow start with the couple (Simin and Nader) in front of an Iranian divorce court explaining their irreconcilable positions.

Exasperated by her husband’s refusal to abandon his father (“Your father doesn’t even know you” – “But I know him”), Simin ends up moving out of the house, requiring Nader to get someone in to help look after his father.

It is here that the central action in the film takes place, the consequences of a confrontation between Nader and the carer (or in fact the carer’s pregnant wife).

I won’t say any more, other than it’s a really beautiful film which (aside from a couple of plot questions) I really enjoyed.

Now for the four runners-up...