The story of the film is that the woman: Simin, decides to leave her husband since he disagrees to move elsewhere with her. Simin is a modern woman (she even smokes), and thinks their 11 year old daughter will have a better future abroad than in Iran where women have to wear veils even inside their own homes and are greatly inferior to men both socially and politically.
It is apparent from his behavior and character that Nader is not a traditionalist either, but what keeps him behind is his sick father.
As Simin leaves, Nader hires Razieh, a woman with a small child to take care of his father, while he is at work and their daughter – Termeh is at school. Razieh finds the conditions too harsh and the pay too little, she offers her husband for the job. She also asks Nader not to tell her husband she was working in their home as it is somewhat religiously disagreeable that she had to change the underwear of an old man (see him naked).
Hojjat accepts the offer, but is unable to come to work on multiple days, so Razieh has to come instead of him. We find out that she is pregnant, but behind her hijab this fact of four month pregnancy is possible to overlook.
Everything breaks loose when Nader and Termeh return home to see the grandfather tied to his bed, fallen on the floor, and nobody home. There is also a sum of money missing from the kitchen table, the same amount he’d had to pay Razieh.
Razieh returns from a doctor’s visit, apologizing for leaving Nader’s father alone. She accepts her mistake, but refuses to leave when Nader accuses her in stealing. Razieh is strongly religious and she would never steal. Nader closes the door on her, Razieh falls down the stairs, and insist this was the reason she lost her child.
The rest of the film are arguments and disagreements in the court, as a result of which we find out that Razieh had most likely lost her baby the day before but lied in front of everyone because her husband Hojjat “would kill [her]” if he found out she had left house in the middle of the night to find where he is.
What’s strange about this film is that there don’t seem to be any good characters and bad ones. Everyone’s actions are somehow justified and at the same time disagreeable. For example Simin’s reason for leaving the country is understandable, at the same time she could be deemed selfish for wanting to leave Nader’s father behind.
Nader lies that he doesn’t know about Razieh’s pregnancy which should be categorized as a ‘bad move’. However he does this because accepting his knowing would mean jail for three years. He thinks about the people that need him: Termeh, his father… He also knows that he didn’t push the woman, and the fact of pregnancy had simply escaped his at that second.
Rezieh was afraid of her husband, maybe she even pretended to fall in the heat of the moment to have a reason to justify the miscarriage, by blaming Nader. At the same time she didn’t lie in front of her Koran, in all situations she remained true to her faith.
All those people seem to be victims of circumstances. Pregnant Razieh wouldn’t go to find a job if their social situation wasn’t so bad, she wouldn’t lie if her husband’s fury was not so threatening for her.
Perhaps Hojjat wouldn’t be so furious had he not felt discriminate by the people of the upper class and looked down upon as an unworthy human being. The lack of acknowledgement for 10 years of shoemaking in the real world, the apathy with which he was fired forced him to exercise more authority where he could: in his family.
Neither is Nader’s family to blame for being richer. Nader is a ‘good man’ because he refuses to let go of his father, at the same time he does not comprehend his wife’s need for a more fitting world.
The main victims of all those circumstances, however, are the children.
Termeh and Somayeh. The two kids whose childhoods are commingled with the dirty dealings of the adults, in a world where there is no good or bad, right or wrong.
This is a sad story, precisely because in real life there is no phone call like those Razieh makes, to find out what’s the right move. Life is complicated, and it’s enough for one man or woman to be dissatisfied for all hell to break loose.