My mate and I took in this year's Oscar winning foreign film, A Separation, at the local cinema this weekend. It's an extraordinary exposition of lives in catastrophic intersection portrayed with a skill that makes great movie making look easy. There's lots of pain and tragedy as loss piles upon loss and the participants crash into one another, literally and emotionally, like a car wreck in slow motion.
But what intrigued me most was the way that justice is represented throughout the film, both as a process and an idea. The film opens with a divorce hearing as the the married couple at the center of the drama make their case before a magistrate in a bare room the size of a storage closet. Just the three of them, without lawyers. The magistrate acts as interrogator, law interpreter, and judge. The couple talk to both him and each other as they present their arguments. Finally as the opening scene ends the magistrate makes his ruling over the vociferous objections of the losing side and that's that.
As the story unfolds several more of these hearings (I have no idea what they are actually called in Iran), involving both both civil and criminal matters, take place with the same direct, continuous, often acrimonious exchange among the participants and the intimate involvement of the magistrate, who inserts himself frequenctly on behalf of one side of the other. Occasionally the proceedings are delayed for evidence gathering but the wait is minimal. A rough but accurate version of the truth emerges, and matters get settled in a way that seems just. Money doesn't have anything to do with the outcome, even though rich and poor are adversaries throughout.
I hope these observations don't come off as some paen to the legal system of a fanatical regime that I consider deeply corrupt and inhumane by any standard. I'm sure that lots of Iranian citizens have experienced a very different sort of justice from a regime so efficient at suppressing its opponents. Still, there was something striking about watching a process in which high priced lawyers had nothing to do with the outcome.