Curiously, the five films that are competing for the Best Foreign Language Oscar are about dark or complex themes. An Algerian refugee steps in to coach children in a Quebec school whose earlier teacher had hung herself from a ceiling fan in the classroom. A mafia traps a farmer in Belgium. Jews are hidden in a sewer by a Polish labourer. Rivalry between a father and son in Israel who are Talmudic scholars. An old man suffering from Alzheimer's and his young granddaughter caught between a squabbling husband and wife in Tehran.
Monsieur Lazhar is that refugee in terrible dilemma. Bullhead is the story of the Belgian farmer, while Jews taste a life in gutter In Darkness, and the father-son Footnote is more than a postscript. A Separation is more about choices, difficult choices laced with suffering, that the couple, the sick man and the young girl are forced to make.
My favourite remains A Separation by Asghar Farhadi. To me it seems like a sure clincher and not without reason. It has been winning prize after prize at festivals since its premiere at Berlin in February 2011. Farhadi has also received a nomination for the Best Original Screenplay. And the director commands the respect of his peers for his defence of fellow Iranian directors persecuted by the autocratic regime in Tehran.
A Separation is brilliant cinematically - profound performances, an unobtrusive camera and splendid editing that made me just sink into the lives of the characters. Also, Farhadi is critical of Iranian society but in an extremely restrained way. That is what masterful cinema is all about, saying all you want to, but in a controlled, dignified manner.
And Farhadi does this through a neat story whose dramatis personae seem to be tearing apart age-old beliefs and tradition without anybody even realising it. They appear to be writing with invisible ink, the letters waiting to emerge after a hot iron passes over them.
Farhadi's tale slips into the private chambers of a married couple, squabbling over their own future and that of their only daughter. In the movie, the wife wants to divorce her husband, because he refuses to immigrate with her and their daughter to America. She says the little girl will have a bright future there, far away from Iran's suffocating conservatism and religious animosity. He does not want to go, because his Alzheimer's afflicted father needs him, and more than him, his wife. The daughter, 11 or 12, wants all of them, certainly her parents. And, when the wife leaves, the husband hires a maid, with a husband whose debtors are hounding him. Finally, when they all meet in court, they try taking refuge in lies and deceit.
On Sunday night, the Oscars will pop out of the envelopes, the destinies written on a piece of paper. Will Farhadi's be a winning one?