Family and (De-)Familiarization in Farhadi’s "A Separation" and "Le Passé"

Farhadi’s rise to international fame comes as no surprise as his films transpire at the core of the family allowing many people to relate to them. Similar as they may be to, for example, Ingmar Bergman’s "Scenes from a Marriage" (1973) or more recently, Roman Polansky’s "Carnage" (2011) and Richard Linklater’s "Before Midnight" (2013), his portrayal of marital problems are unique in their simultaneous depiction of socio-cultural issues of the society at large. What makes his scenarios particularly moving is his eye for details: Such as the band aid wrapped around Fouad’s finger in "Le Passé" which further familiarizes us with Ahmad’s softer side or in "A Separation," Simin’s smoking of a cigarette, which (de-)familiarizes us with Simin in indicating a rebellious aspect of her. Overall, mundane minutiae serve as elements of (de-)familiarization so as to (de-)familiarize the spectators with realities marking the characters as separate individuals and as members of a nuclear family. While "A Separation," as the title indicates, presumably, culminates in a separation, in "Le Passé," the separation only needs to be legally finalized as it is, presumably, a thing of the past. Part of the fascination of the western spectators with "A Separation" was the viewing of women who were hijab-abiding even within the quarters of their home. What the average viewer may have failed to read into it is how that translates into the reservations that the typical Iranian woman carries within her when faced with such a momentous decision as divorce, the obverse side of which is portrayed in "Le Passé" where the western woman, seemingly, follows her heart’s desire without much thought for the social outcomes of her decisions. The difference of setting makes all the difference in the (de-)familiarization process that takes place on a diegetic level in the two movies, for, whereas in "A Separation," Razieh’s failure to inform her husband of her day-time work as a caretaker de-familiarizes her in the eyes of her husband, in "Le Passé," Ahmad does not quite feel de-familiarized with Marie until he hears of the imbrications of Samir’s family ties with the current bonds the latter has formed with his soon-to-be ex-wife and her daughters of a former relationship. All in all, affiliations take precedence over associations further highlighting the significance of '(de-)familiarization' in these two films in its multiple senses.