The Past (Le Passé) by Asghar Farhadi is a film, like his 2011 film A Separation, that explores a relationship coming to an end. This time around Farhadi is more interested in a couple finalizing their divorce rather than contemplating it. The story follows Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) as he arrives in Paris from Iran and not only observes the strained relationship between (soon to be) ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and her daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), from a previous marriage, but also the girl’s disapproval of her mother’s engagement to another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim).
Playing into themes of guilt and secrets, the film isn’t easy to watch. It is a tense and unflinching look at the complicated nature of love and family. Through Farhadi’s rapturous approach to framing and overall direction, he effectively creates great conflict through subtle moments of observation. An example of this can be found in a great scene where Ahmad and Samir sit silently in the kitchen as they listen to Marie try to locate Lucie who has not returned home. What makes the sequence so interesting is that Ahmad, listening to the commotion, knows full well that the source of all the tension is sitting calmly across from him.
Samir, an Arab, is still married to a woman who is comatose due to a suicide attempt. Lucie is troubled by her mother’s engagement to Samir as she is convinced that their affair was what led to his wife’s suicide attempt. The fascinating thing about the impact of Marie and Samir’s turbulent and complicated relationship is the impact that it has on their children. Both Lucie and Samir’s adolescent son turn to Ahmad for father figure-like guidance.
The key to unlocking the intensity of The Past is found in the performances. Tahar Rahim is superb as a man both dealing with a comatose wife and the new family drama he finds himself in. Ahmad’s presence only further fuels his overall uneasiness. Ali Mosaffa brings both sympathy and kindness to the way he plays Ahmad. He serves as a nice contrast to Samir. Then there’s Bérénice Bejo, who gives an astonishing performance in the film. The way in which Bejo plays an unlikable character will definitely surprise some as it is the opposite of what she displayed in her breakthrough performance in 2011’s The Artist. She brings a sense of honesty to a woman who has already been married a few times and is simply trying to come to terms with her past and the pain she is currently going through.
Though it might not reach the heights of A Separation, The Past confirms Asghar Farhadi as a major force in international cinema. He creates drama that is intense and engrossing while still keeping his characters human and compelling. The Past is truly a remarkable achievement from Asghar Farhadi.
© thevoid99 2014