Two things occurred to me while watching the 2013 French and Persian language film, “The Past”. The first, was that I really think that Iranian director Asghar Farhadi is on to something with these familial dramas that play like thrillers. “The Past” is the second I’ve experienced from the director, following in the footsteps of the 2011 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, “A Separation”. And I was just as riveted this time around. My follow-up observation was that I was dead-on in recognizing the talents of Berenice Bejo, Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress for 2011’s “The Artist”(she came up short to Octavia Spencer from, “The Help”). Ms. Bejo probably deserved the award that year, in a performance in which she never uttered a word. She’s much more vocal in “The Past”, and her work in it garnered her the Best Actress Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Most of the attention for “The Artist” landed in the lap of Best Actor winner, Jean Dujardin. He deserved the attention, but the plaudits for Berenice should’ve been more substantial. Cannes made up for the dearth—just a bit.
“The Past” centers on an Iranian husband, arriving back home in France to finalize divorce papers with his wife. Ahmad(a beautifully controlled performance from Ali Mossafa)is invited to stay at his former home by spouse Marie(Ms. Bejo), but they are soon bickering over all the old disagreements—before they even reach the house they shared at one time. Once there, we meet the children of Marie, but it’s a period before we realize that none of the offspring come from her union with Ahmad. The two girls are Marie’s from a previous relationship, and Ahmad seems to have a strong and loving relationship with both. The boy is the son of Marie’s current flame, Samir(solid work from Tahar Rahim), and he is a troubled young lad that strongly misses his mother—Samir’s estranged wife who lies in a coma after a suicide attempt. Samir respectfully remains in the background while Marie attends the hearing with Ahmad to make their separation official, but the past of all parties involved keeps confronting them in ever more intricate and emotional ways.
Asghar Farhadi’s script for “The Past” is complex and dexterous. If it occasionally becomes a bit too convoluted, I ended up forgiving its trespasses and applauding its maturity instead. The child actors are more than adequate(and thankfully not relied on solely for “cuteness”)and the plight of the oldest of the trio(the teenager, Lucie, as played by Pauline Burlet)is quite affecting. Farhadi consistently, entertainingly, and mostly believably, leads us down myriad paths and passageways, that occasionally appear familiar—only to execute a tight left turn at the last moment. It makes for a rapid sit, despite the film’s 130 minute running time. Whatever, Asghar Farhadi decides to direct next, I’m already on board. As a child that lived through the pain and confusion of a divorced home, and an adult man now experiencing the highs and pitfalls of my own marriage while raising two young boys with my spouse, I recognize and appreciate the focus and candor apparent in his writing. Mr. Farhadi paints realistic portraits of the kind of families I can relate to, and understand. I wonder and await, what will be up his sleeve next. Grade: A-