Posted by: ckckred | February 18, 2014

The Past

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If A Separation was director Asghar Farhadi’s rise to fame, The Past solidifies his reputation as one of the best filmmaker’s working today.  Farhadi expands upon the premise of A Separation of an Iranian family struggling to maintain itself to a multicultural level, yet The Past is just as attentive in examining the lives of its characters with its use of a compelling screenplay and a devoted group of actors.

Farhadi structures the picture similarly to A Separation.  In the opening scene Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) meets his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) at a Paris Airport.  Ahmad broke up Marie four years ago and left to his home in Iran.  Now he has returned to finalize his divorce with Marie, who is currently seeing another man named Samir (Tahar Rahim).  He and his son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) live with Marie and her two daughters: the young and exuberant Léa (Janne Jestin) and sulky teenager Lucie (Pauline Burlet).  But things aren’t running smoothly as Ahmad soon discovers that Samir has a wife who is currently in a coma, an invisible and unmentioned burden on the family.

By pacing the picture with a continuous narrative flow, Farhadi allows the audience to follow the ensemble in learning the important plot points, thus making The Past feel like as much as an experience for the viewer as it is for the characters.  There’s no music or exaggerated action, just dialogue, making everything seem all the more real.  This approach, which Farhadi also used in A Separation, creates a justifiable viewpoint for everyone in the cast, making no one’s motives seem beyond reason.  With his detailed direction and reasoning, Farhadi questions the certitude of morality, whether the characters are acting on their best or worst terms.  Ahmad acts as an outside guide or sightseer.  None of Marie’s children are of his kin and he has no reason to partake in the family’s melancholic woe other than to sign his divorce papers.  Yet Ahmad’s intervention suggests that he is the only one who seeks responsibility and truth and in fact the closest figure to a parent.

The ethical costs also stem from race.  Ahmad is Iranian, Marie is French, and Samir is Arabic, perhaps why none of them seem compatible with each other (this idea is reinforced by one of Ahmad’s friends, who suggests that he wasn’t made for this kind of world).  This is where The Past differs from A Separation, which examined only the culture of Iran.  While ethnicity is rarely and explicitly brought up, it lingers throughout the duration of the picture.

The cast of The Past is arguably the year’s best.  Bejo has received much deserved praise in her role as Marie for making her a disenchanted yet caring mother.  Rahim also does very well as Samir and portrays him as a complex man, seemingly antagonistic in his first scene but increasing warm and emotional when his motives are explained.  Mosaffa does a strong job as the protagonist with a commanding and concerned performance.  As Lucie, Burlet is terrific at taking what could be a generic teenage role for other actresses and making it a powerful and intricate role.  One actor I believe may be overlooked by most is the young Elyes Aguis.  While he does not play as central as a side character as Lucie, Fouad most visibly suggests the discomfort of Marie’s family with Samir, appearing as an outcast so desperately trying to fit in.  Aguis’ pained expression reveals the internal suffering the ensemble is going through.

Due to the Academy’s strict guidelines for the Foreign Film category, the Oscars unfairly ignored The Past, which did not even receive a nod for its acting or script.  Which is a shame since The Past is one of the 2013’s most powerful expressions of cinema, proving that what really drives filmmaking is a solid script and cast, a lesson that modern directors need to be taught more.

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Responses

  1. Haven’t heard of this one before to be honest mate, but sounds really good. I’ll look into it. Nice write up!

    • Thanks! I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard about this. It’s a solid movie for sure and one of the year’s best.

  2. Very anxious to see this. It may be opening in my area this weekend. I certainly hope it is.

    • This just opened near me this past weekend so I was fortunately able to see it. Hope you enjoy it, I thought it was a solid picture.

  3. Yet another glowing review. I need to find some way to see this film.

    • It opened in a nearby theater for me this past weekend, but I’ve waited for a couple of months hoping it would expand into more screens. I’d be interested in reading your take. For myself, it’s one of 2013’s best.

  4. I’ve really been wanting to see this film, but like so many others, they just don’t have it super close to me. I’m glad to hear it’s good, I still haven’t even seen A Separation yet but I like Bejo.

    • I would highly recommend seeing A Separation, which is much like The Past in terms of plot and tone. Bejo is pretty amazing in the movie as well as the rest of the cast.

  5. Aaaargh I still haven’t seen A Separation yet but I really want to see this one. I was very impressed by Bejo in The Artist, been meaning to see more of her.

    • Definitely check this out along with A Separation. Bejo is great in this picture.

  6. The foreign language Oscar category is really a law unto itself isn’t it? Great read buddy.

    • Thanks! Yeah, the Oscar guidelines really are crazy. I’ve only seen The Great Beauty of the nominees and while that’s a strong movie, this is a better one.

  7. The foreign language Oscar regulations are really problematic, it drives me mad. I haven’t seen this one yet, but am looking forward to it from reading your excellent review!

    • Thanks! I agree, this should have been in contention for the Oscar. I’ve only seen The Great Beauty of the nominees and while I really liked that, this is a better movie.

  8. You could argue that almost nothing happens in this movie, but at the same time, you could also argue that by not doing much, everything you need to know about these characters, their relationships to one another and what’s really bothering them at the inner-core, shows up and gives us one of the more compelling, human-dramas since, well, A Separation. Good review.

    • Thanks! Farhadi really knows how to explore the inner lives of families. He made very tricky material work.

  9. Thanks for the recommendation. This had passed me by but I’ve now added it to my to-see list.

    • Thanks! Definitely check it out, superb movie.

  10. Wow, I’ve only ever read amazing things about The Past, can’t believe it got snubbed this year. Then again, I’ve never fully trusted in what those folks deem as worthy entries anyway, so. . .

    I look forward to seeing this at some point. Nice work Ck.


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