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A Seperation (PG)

Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi

Here is a brooding and rather brilliant drama about conscience and the law that deserves the widest possible audience.

Unfortunately it won't get one, because it's made in Iran and comes with subtitles. At its heart is the dilemma of a married couple who may be about to separate. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to get out of the country, but husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) refuses to leave his seriously ailing father. In a long opening scene, both stubbornly stand their ground before a judge in a dingy municipal office, the first of many extraordinary glimpses into the Iranian judicial system. Nader hires a pregnant working-class woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to look after his father during the day, an engagement that ends in calamity when a violent row flares up and Razieh is roughly ejected by her employer. It transpires that in the struggle she lost her baby, and now her volatile husband (Shahab Hosseini) wants compensation from Nader, and won't stop at intimidation to get it.

The writer-director Asghar Farhadi sets it all up so unobtrusively that you may not even notice details that will be vital once the two parties go to court against one another. In one sense it's a legal drama, bound up with class resentments and religious taboos that, while mysterious to western society, are of profound relevance to an Iranian one. Yet A Separation becomes even more gripping as it delves into the minefield of personal conscience: Nader and Razieh both have a defence, but both know more than they're letting on. The story is underscored by the moral anguish of the couple's 11-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), a girl wiser than her years who sees too clearly the catastrophe her parents are heading towards. Hers is one among several excellent performances that helped to clinch this year's Golden Bear at Berlin, the first ever Iranian film to do so. If you get the chance, find out why.