Asghar Farhadi is the master of the dark secret. Coming off of 2011’s A Separation, his Academy Award winning film about a family unraveling, Farhadi’s latest entry, The Past (2013), once again dives into the arena of family politics. The film, which is both written and directed by Farhadi, features beautiful performances, a heartbreaking story, and an incredible script. Set in France, The Past spans 6 people’s attempts to navigate their broken relationships, in the midst of deception and manipulation. A truly engrossing film, The Past is one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences I have had this year.
The film opens with Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa) returning to France from Iran after 4 years to finalize the divorce with his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo). A measured and kind man, Ahmed attempts to stay friendly with Marie, but their continued arguments hint at many issues left unresolved. Though he tries to think of Marie as simply his ‘ex’, she and her daughters (Lucie and Léa) still hold a special place in his heart. During his stay, Marie implores Ahmed to speak with Lucie and discover the root cause of her recent bad behaviour. As he soon learns, Marie is currently in a serious relationship with a new man named Samir (Tahar Rahim), a relationship that Lucie is strongly opposed to. Stuck in the middle of a family conflict, Ahmed acts as a mediator, attempting to navigate the complex relationships of all involved. Despite his better judgment, he cannot easily extract himself from the complicated situation he is thrust into. Held in place by the history between him and everyone involved, Ahmed makes due as best he can.
The performances in The Past are powerful and pitch perfect. Bejo in particular is striking as the determined Marie. Pushed to the edge, and torn between Lucie and Samir, Marie makes the best of her situation, and strives for what she wants. Another standout performance in the film is from Elyes Aguis who plays Fouad, Samir’s son. Aguis perfectly captures Fouad’s pain. A cheeky and sweet boy, Fouad is filled with an anger he cannot properly express or fully comprehend. His outbursts are painful to watch, because despite his bratty actions, his rage is understandable. Feeling no control over his situation, he lashes out at Marie, Samir and anyone in his way.
As Ahmed and the others soon discover, the past is a fluid and muddy thing. Something they are both trying to escape and come to terms with. It is their clumsy grappling with history that makes this film so human. Farhadi is an ambitious filmmaker, and as such, succeeds in creating life on screen. Every character in The Past is fully realized. They possess their own rich histories, and the audience is made to grasp the unique reasoning behind their actions. The film is incredibly compassionate, and despite the characters’ mistakes, we understand them, which makes their situation all the more painful. Farhadi’s ability to capture human pathos is admirable, and not to be missed.
You can catch the second screening of The Past on Oct. 5 (3:30 pm) at Vancouver Playhouse.