After directing the Academy Award winning Iranian film, A Separation, writer/director Asghar Farhadi is returning to the spotlight here in the states with his next relationship-based film, this time a French/Iranian title called The Past.
Four years after being separated from Marie (Bérénice Bejo), Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran to finalize their divorce so they can officially close this chapter in their lives (even if one wants it much more than the other). While in town, Marie asks Ahmad to talk to her daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), who loves him like a father, to find out why she is so distant and angry with Marie. As Ahmad attempts to help mend this relationship by playing a middleman peacekeeper, he soon discovers that there is a secret from the past that is causing the riff in their relationship and it seems like it’s related to Marie’s new husband to be, Samir (Tahar Rahim).
Rather than giving you specifics I’d rather let you experience The Past without any knowledge of important plot points. If you can go in spoiler free I think the movie will be much more impactful than if you went in knowing more than the basic plot as it’ll certainly take away from the intrigue and pacing of the story.
If you know nothing about The Past before you sit down to watch it, like me you might expect it to be a very long relationship drama, similar to Farhad’s prior film, A Separation. I wasn’t eager to watch this movie but as the film slowly unfolded I couldn’t help but be caught in its grasp. The main reason for this is that the film isn’t just a drama, it’s a mystery film and Ahmad is the likeable detective we follow around as we try to figure out what is going on and what bits of misinformation we are being fed to throw us off the secret’s trail.
What makes The Past even more fascinating is how important each character is to the story, how they all have an impact on each other and how almost everyone finds a way to contribute something of merit that ends up altering the trajectory of the film in some way. This is why the movie is so good, since nearly everything seems relevant it keeps you focused on the film instead of giving you moments here and there to daze off, this is why I ended up liking the movie as much as I did. Furthermore, the movie takes its time building up to the climax, rather than rushing the reveal it takes its dandy time over its 130 min duration which, while long, is an effective tool that ends up working out to its advantage.
Outside the story aspects, I’d like to give praise to Farhadi’s directorial and screenwriting abilities as well as compliment the acting. I found the performances to be genuine and down-to-earth and this applies to everyone, including the three children who have to get just as emotional as the parents. I never saw an instance of under or overacting and though the standout performer was, surprisingly, Pauline Burlet as Lucie. Her role was central to the success of the story and she was able to carry all of the emotional weight her character required while not playing a completely psychotic teenager, rather one that was pretty rational in her thought process.
Overall, The Past is certainly another winner for Asghar Farhadi and I found it to be much more engaging and enjoyable than his previous Oscar winning film. The strong script coupled with a its moderately slow pace and wonderful acting makes this sleuth-like film one certainly worth checking out and a strong candidate for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category.
Rating: A compelling drama whose success rides on the slow unravel of the mystery its leads are trying to solve (8/10)