This series of articles has taken a wander across the years of world cinema and highlighted some of the most popular and impressive films to be rented from Cinema Paradiso’s extensive list, and this particular article is quite special; addressing on the one hand one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2012 and on the other discussing a film that, until recently, had somewhat passed me by.

The year that saw the release of many other successful pieces including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011), The Social Network (2010), Shame (2011) and the first The Hunger Games (2012) picture also marks the start of the second term of the first black American president Barrack Obama and the Royal announcement about Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. However, the two films chosen from this year could not be less regal or political, they are the multi-Oscar winning The Artist (2011) and the quieter yet still award winning Iranian film Nader and Simin: A Separation (2011).

Beginning with Asghar Farhadi’s Nader and Simin: A Separation, a film about a couple who, unable to reconcile their differing opinions over the future of their family, are forced to separate. This is not some melodramatic rom-com however, do not expect easily spotted and neatly tied up resolutions after ninety minutes of quaint but mundane humour; this is an exploration of characters, choices and consequences which will keep you absorbed throughout.

The particular subject that causes the separation of married couple Nader and Simin regards their daughter, Termeh; Simin wants to leave their home country of Iran so that her daughter may have access to a better life, without the political unrest and limited opportunities afforded to women in Iran. Her husband however wishes to stay in Iran and care for his aging father who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Simin returns to her parents’ house whilst the couple seek a divorce however a slow accumulation of events and the gentle revelation of various pieces of hidden information cause the already complex lines of empathy and identification to become more and more blurred, keeping the audience constantly intrigued and morally uncertain.

Words like intrigue and revelation suggest incorrectly that Nader and Simin: A Separation has mystery elements, this could not be further from the truth however; the nature of the film is far more akin to the way in which people experience events in reality, some information is withheld, without malice or cruel intent but rather simply because it may have seemed irrelevant or unimportant, the circumstances around the characters change only slightly and yet each one builds upon the previous to create huge and irreparable life events.

I hesitate to mention too much more about the narrative of this film without giving away the particulars, as such I will say only that what awaits the characters is not what they had expected and yet they are not massive events of drama that strike by surprise; there is something explicitly human about A Separation, this is largely because of the way in which the events unfold.

What also adds to this specific tone of humanity are the performances, most notably from those of Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami who play Nader and Simin respectively; both of whom help to create believable and understandable characters. Yet it is not even this that makes Nader and Simin: A Separation so interesting, it is the broadness of the subjects addressed, the oppressive nature of the Iranian culture, the black and white authority of their legal system, the expectations and behaviour of their people, all of which contrast so starkly with those of the Western world. The way in which Asghar Farhadi, who also wrote the screenplay, explores these notions without drawing attention away from the individual human aspect of the film is an impressive feat. The microcosmic world of Nader and Simin is but one representation of a world most unlike the one most of us experience every day and yet in many ways there is a great deal of familiarity about it. With so many layers to a single film it is no wonder that the runtime exceeds two hours, yet the intricacies and personality of such a piece keep anyone from taking their eyes from the screen long enough to even glance at their watch.

The second film discussed in this article is the beautiful black and white French piece The Artist, winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Directing the film tells the story of a silent film star who falls in love with a dancer on the eve of the advent of talking pictures. Though to many this may sound like a revamp of Singin' in the Rain (1952) The Artist is a strikingly different film; more beautiful, more unusual and more romantic than its musical predecessor.

Now don’t get me wrong Singin' in the Rain is one of my absolute favourite films, however The Artist offers audiences something quite unlike what is on offer in the Gene Kelly classic. The most impressive aspect of The Artist is the way in which it tells its story without the use of words, a formula that has gone very much out of fashion since Jazz Singer (1927) was so successful back in 1927, yet The Artist reminds audiences of how effective such narrative devices can be. Without words, The Artist paints a stunning and magical picture of two lovers embroiled, as lovers so often are, in an idealistic love affair at what can only be described as an inopportune time.

The performances by leads Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are what bring this film to life, whilst the themes presented by writer and director Michel Hazanavicius – namely the juxtaposition of old and new – are both timely as well as stylistically well developed. As a film that chose to be different from much of the fare normally offered up for audience consumption The Artist is a great exemplar of what the truly talented and imaginative can do, whilst if nothing else it ought to be applauded for introducing silent cinema to a new generation who until now may never have experienced the wonder of Charles Chaplin and his ilk.