Following a four year separation, Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) returns to Paris from Tehran, on his French wife Marie's (Bérénice Bejo) request, in order to finalize their divorce papers. During his brief stay, Ahmad meets the new man in her life, Samir (Tahar Rahim) and discovers the conflicting nature of Marie's relationship with her daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Ahmad's efforts to improve this relationship soon unveil a secret from their past.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is meant as a compliment that Asghar Farhadi & Massoumeh Lahidji's screenplay is reminiscent of filmmakers as vastly different as Spain's Pedro Almodovar and Denmark's Susanne Bier, both in thematic terms and in storytelling. Melodrama treated as real drama. The sharp insights into relationships within families adjacent to those with lovers provide compelling drama, especially when delivered with such powerful performances.
It's one thing that the adult actors are superb, but it's tiny Elyes Aguis as the conflicted 5 year old Fouad who is so exceptional, the young son whose father Samir (Tahar Rahim) is living with Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and whose mother is lying in a coma. We only catch a glimpse of this woman at the end, yet she is at the centre of the entire drama, and the way the story unfolds in cascading revelations is a testament to cinema.
Bérénice Bejo is magnificent as Marie, a conflicted wife and mother whose relationship with Lucie (Pauline Burlet, reminiscent of a young Marion Cotillard), her daughter (from a previous marriage), is one of the key dramatic threads. Ali Mossafa as her estranged husband Ahmed is the emotional anchor, and his performance is subtle yet strong, as is Tahar Rahim as Samir, who is sorely tested in every way, as lover and husband to different women, and as father to Fouad. With less screen time but delivering high impact is Sabrina Ouazani as Naïma, a visceral performance of vital importance.
The film is titled The Past because all of the present is a result of actions and decisions from the past, which seamlessly becomes part of the future as well. The film is made naturalistically, and music is only heard at the end, yet for all its heartbreaking veracity, it has the tragic grandeur of mythology.
Review by Louise Keller:
The intricate web of relationships is as sticky as that of the spider's home in this searing drama in which truths, lies, blame, guilt, actions and consequences collide in a spectacular emotional tour de force. Following his 2011 Oscar-winning film A Separation, Asghar Farhadi has created a quicksand of a reality in which the relationships of each of the characters is examined. The catalyst for the unravelling is Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), whose trip from Iran to France to end his marriage acts as a starting point for the revelations. Farhadi's screenplay is deceptively simple in that we are not aware of the construct: we are drawn into the moment as the exposition plays out and we learn more and more about the key players and what are the secrets they each hold. More gripping than any thriller, the dynamics of human relationships under the microscope is cinema at its most compelling.
On at least three occasions, starting in the opening airport sequence when Marie (Bérénice Bejo) collects her soon to be ex-husband Ahmad, Farhadi shows his characters through a glass window or door, when we are not able to hear what they are saying to each other. Highly effective as a device, it is as though there is something going on about which we are not yet aware. The seemingly insignificant chit chat between Marie and Ahmad in the car as they head towards Marie's home is anything but insignificant. Every little detail is integral in that it alerts us to a little part of the jigsaw of their lives. We get a sense of where the areas of conflict lie, what are the sensitive issues and what which are the ones that remain unspoken. Marie's live-in lover Samir (Tahar Rahim) is quick to notice there is unfinished business between Marie and Ahmad.
The nuances shift as Farhadi concentrates on each of the individual relationships. Why is Samir's five year old son Fouad (Elves Aguis) so unsettled? Why is Marie's 16 year old daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) uncommuicative and stays out until all hours? Why can they - and Marie's younger daughter Léa (Jeanne Jestin) - all talk to Ahmed but not to Marie or Samir? The detail of the maze of secrets begins to reveal itself. What of Samir's wife and her circumstances? And what part if any, does Naïma (Sabrina Ouazani), the illegal employee who works in his dry cleaning business play?
The performances are all perfectly judged with Bejo picking up Best Actress award at Cannes last year and the film widely acclaimed. The way the screenplay accentuates different characters at different times could be compared to a harmonious score in which different instruments of the orchestra are each allowed a turn in the spotlight.
Farhadi delicately hones in on each relationship one at a time, fleshing out the characters and expanding our view of them, the situation and past events. So personal are the issues canvassed and the conversations between the characters that I almost felt as though I was eavesdropping. The baton of action is passed from one to the other. As for the final scene, nothing will prepare you for the physical and emotional place that Farhadi elects to leave us.
Email this article
PAST, THE (M)
CAST: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Sabrina Ouazani, Babak Karimi
PRODUCER: Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Alexa Rivero
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
SCRIPT: Asghar Farhadi, Massoumeh Lahidji
EDITOR: Juliette Welfling
MUSIC: Evgueni Galperine, Youli Galperine
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Claude Lenoir
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 6, 2014