Author John le Carré knew the Cold War spy business from the inside. Under his real name, David Cornwell, he was a British spy betrayed by real-life KGB double-agent Kim Philby in 1963. Many elements of his novel "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" are built on the facts surrounding the historic defection of Philby to the Soviets.
The plot begins with rumors that a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest levels of British intelligence. John Hurt plays the leader of the agency trying to identify the spy. Gary Oldman is excellent as the tight-lipped George Smiley who is given the secret mission to ferret out the mole.
What follows is an old-fashioned, low-tech spy thriller. There are no computers, GPS devices or unmanned drones in sight. Teletype machines, reel-to-reel tape recorders and binoculars are state-of-the-art equipment. All communications utilize rotary dial phones.
There are no hints of James Bond-style action or nonsense. Uncovering the truth here is a slow, plodding and cerebral process. A brooding, chilly atmosphere pervades everything on screen. This may be closer to the reality of espionage than anything you'll see in "Mission: Impossible."
It is rare in Hollywood for a foreign language film to be touted as the "best picture of the year," but "A Separation" easily warrants those accolades. I hope there are some Oscars in store for this beautifully told story.
The gripping family drama begins with a middle-class Iranian couple telling a judge their reasons for divorce. Simin wants to start a life abroad to give their daughter more opportunities. Her husband Nader cannot leave his Alzheimer's-stricken father, and wants to keep the daughter with him.
Nothing is settled, and Simin moves out to live with her parents. Nader must hire a woman to look after his father during the day. This separation triggers a complex, increasingly desperate series of personal and legal events that reveal the gaps in communication, education and values between people.
Director/ producer Asghar Farhadi also wrote this film with characters we can relate to: a daughter being forced to choose between her parents, a son torn up over an aging parent, a poor couple struggling with serious debt. We feel their pain and anguish and are shocked by their poor choices.
"A Separation" leaves us to worry about the characters and ponder the hornet's nest of ethical questions stirred up within.
JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.
SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.