Movie Review: The Separation of Nader va Simin (Iran)

The media attention on Israel’s potential response to Iran’s nuclear activity has piqued my interest to learn a bit more about Iranian culture. Last week our family watched a most incredible film that I felt provided so much insight, so I asked my very good friend, Cultural Detective certified facilitator Pari Namazie, what she thought about what I had learned and seen.

I trust you’ll all enjoy her insights as much as I have. It would seem that this film could be an excellent learning tool for those working with Iranians.

Pari joon, thank you for sharing your insights with us!

They were proud moments for us Iranians when Asghar Farhadi received the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, as well as the Golden Globe and the Golden Bear of Berlinale, for his film A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin).

The film, which talks about a divorce between Nader and Simin, has two main underlying themes: responsibility and truth. Though one initially thinks the film is about a divorce case, Farhadi cleverly weaves many layers of Iranian society into his film, including power, religion, truth, gender, family, and social class. The points which stuck out most when I watched the film were:

The role of women: Iran is governed by Islamic law. The society is patriarchal and the laws between men and women unequal. Although the foreign media might portray Iranian women as weak and dominated by men, the reality of the matter was captured well in Farhadi’s film, which showed Simin wanting to leave Iran with her daughter, as she believed it was not an environment for a child to grow up in. When her husband refused to immigrate with her (due to his father’s condition), she then insisted on divorce and moved into her parents’ home. It also showed a more religious woman taking fate into her own hands looking for a job, despite the fact that in her family the breadwinner was undoubtedly her husband. Any one who has visited Iran will know the strength of character and conviction of its women.

Truth: The film beautifully portrayed the search for truth in the Iranian culture: from the court, to Termeh (the daughter) asking her father if he knew Razieh (the helper) was pregnant when he pushed her out of the house, to Razieh swearing on the Koran that Nader’s pushing her caused her miscarriage — if she swore on the Koran and it were untrue, then she would condemn her daughter’s future and fate. These behaviors show one of the strongest elements in Iranian culture: the search for truth.

Religion: Beautiful to see how Farhadi craftfully showed the secular and religious segments of society, how they came together respectful of one another, and yet also their existing tensions. Nader and Simin are more secular and Razieh and her family, religious. On one occasion Razieh called her religious authority to ask if it was permitted by Islam to work with an elderly old man, who was not related to her and where she would have to wash and change him.

Responsibility and Family: The relationship and responsibility towards family from the younger to the older generation. In the opening scene at the family court, Nader tells the judge that he cannot immigrate with Simin as he has an elderly father suffering with Alzheimer’s and can not leave him. Other scenes show Nader’s commitment to his father and his relationship with his daughter Termeh. Although he is under many pressures he still maintains his attentive concentration towards Termeh’s studies and taking care of his father, the two main priorities in his life.

Farhadi competently shows the different viewpoints of all the actors, without taking sides, and lets the audience reflect on the circumstances and situations. This film is a must-see if you have not yet!

Saudi and Its Treasure

Saudi Arabia absolutely deserves its renowned title, “the last forbidden kingdom in the world.”

There are virtually no tourists in the country. There is also no such a thing as a tourist visa. In order to get into the kingdom, I needed to have an invitation from a friend or a company. After a few months furiously networking, I still found no one who was bold enough to want to get involved. A colleague of mine kindly explained: “You don’t make friends with a Saudi through email. You need to have incredible luck to meet one first, then wait until you have eaten all their dates and your body has been swollen with their tea, then you may say you have a friend.”

However, I must say I do have some self-claimed friends from a Saudi forum. One of them, not sure of his nationality, has helped me generously up to a point where he asked me to send a photo so he could pick me up at the airport and (word by word) “…make sex together”. After many other dramas, I decided to contact the embassy and frankly told them my whole idea: “Sir, I would like to travel along the Islamic history route, from where Islam began, which is your country. And then I will follow its expansion path through three continents. Think Ibn Batutta! I want to show people that there is also a different Middle East than what is described in media. I’m a good person with good purpose. Please help!”

I started to email and call Saudi embassy in The Hague nine months before my journey began, without much luck. Then I decided to just knock on their door. The first man I talked with made me jump to my feet when he said this is an amazing project, and the embassy “has to” support me. I came back home, preparing a cover letter and all other documents as suggested. A month later, I got an appointment with the first secretary and was overwhelmed by the friendliness I received. I came home again to prepare a thick package of paper as suggested, even got to details such as who I plan to meet and where I plan to visit. Mr. Secretary promised to inform me if anything else is needed. He kindly asked for my patience as the papers would have to wait after the annual Hajj to be submitted to the Ministry of Culture. Three months later, he informed me that my application had been sent away.

Then I patiently waited for another three months…

And I am still waiting…

Now, let me tell you another story. When I was small, my father – a colonel in the North Vietnamese army – had in his room a small safe that nobody was allowed to touch, let alone to open it. My siblings and I used to stare at it for hours, arguing what it was inside. Our imagination ran wild, starting with all sorts of guns and weapons, or maybe poison. One day, I – by then five years old – stood up and seriously concluded that there must be a monster being kept in the safe. None of us ever thought of something beautiful, like a precious stone or similar treasure. Daddy would share it with us no doubt if it was a beautiful thing.

Years after, when my father got his cancer, in one of the last days of his life, he called me to his bed and gave me the secret that he had been keeping away from us for so long.

It is a bible. It is a small bible with a beautiful red leather case.

In another story, I will explain to you why the bible must be hidden in my family. For now, whenever I recall my childhood staring at father’s safe, letting the wild rumor and imagination consume my mind, I could not help a chuckle. It still surprises me how far from the truth our guess work had been.

My friends, don’t you think we have done enough guess work about Saudi?


It’s nice to meet all of you here on the Cultural Detective blog! I am a proud member of this team, and co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam. I am in the midst of a journey that traces the path of Islam, from its origins as it spread outward around our planet. You can follow my journey daily in Facebook or via my blog.

Yemen Revolution and the Quest for Patience

This photo was taken 30 minutes after the voting closed. Not a gunshot was heard in Sanaa. This rifle (though readily placed next to the desk of a media boss in Sanaa) was not needed.

I arrived in Yemen just 12 hours before the election. As a single female traveler, the airport police did not let me out until they could appoint a driver to take me to my friend’s house. Nobody left the airport untraceable.

The election has only one candidate, Mr Hadi, and it is interesting to see that this election aims at non-violence and a peaceful handover of power rather than genuine democracy. Many Yemeni activists told me that 5 other candidates were denied by the government. They were furious, of course.

However, looking at the turmoil that Yemen has been through, I can also see the reasons behind this seemingly undemocratic election. Being a very delicate and fragile country, Yemen needs stability and its people need to know that democracy goes steps by step. The country is like a patient after a big operation. He needs soft food and milk instead of steak.

I am happy for Yemen, that the country has moved one step away from dictatorship, being in a transition of moving forwards to a real democratic election in the near future. Democracy is a process, and it needs a lot of patience and dialogue.

It’s nice to meet all of you here on the Cultural Detective blog! I am a proud member of this team, and co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam. I am in the midst of a journey that traces the path of Islam, from its origins as it spread outward around our planet. You can follow my journey daily in Facebook or via my blog.