Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published February 2nd 2014
Director: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday) Cast: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
If Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi hadn't used the title A Separation for his last film, he could've applied it to his follow-up. Despite The Past being set in another country, and mostly spoken in another language, the repercussions of a divorce remain at the centre of Farhadi's narrative.
Tahar Rahim and Berenice Bejo as trouble couple Samir and Marie
Previously Farhadi's films have dealt very much with Iranian customs, so it's quite a departure for him to set The Past in Paris. The story begins with a quiet, dignified Iranian man, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), returning to Paris to sign divorce papers. His estranged French wife Marie (Berencie Bejo) has already moved on emotionally and is in a live-in relationship with her new boyfriend, the younger Samir (Tahar Rahim) - much to the disapproval of her eldest daughter, Lucie. In contrast, Ahmad has yet to let go of his failed marriage and until now has been reluctant to formalise its end.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and Samir, the past and present loves of Marie.
Like A Separation, The Past deals with social mores, how bureaucracy impinges on people's private lives and the responsibilities inherent with caring for dependents. These are themes that could have easily been reduced to soap opera had they not been handled so subtly and with such intelligence. Farhadi is a master storyteller who knows how to communicate emotions and motives with great economy. He gets inside his characters without the audience ever feeling manipulated.
He's also even handed, sharing his sympathies with the three characters at the centre of this story of fractured and fragile relationships. Slowly we learn more about what has brought these people to this point and the real reason for Lucie's aggressive attitude towards her mother's new relationship.
While falling slightly short of the dramatic wallop that was A Separation, The Past still packs plenty of punch, thanks to a uniformly excellent cast and Farhadi's intricate attention to detail. Not one to resort to an easy cop-out, he prefers a more realistic messiness to his characters and their situations.
The Past was a huge hit at last year's Melbourne Film Festival, placing second in the MIFF People's Choice Awards. It's a sobering and absorbing work full of quiet rewards.