Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
Runtime: 130 mins.
Australian release date: 6 February 2014
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 20 January 2014
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past missed out on this year’s Oscar nominations, unlike his 2011 effort A Separation which garnered the Best Foreign Language Film gong. It is an oversight, for he delivers an emotional drama that is not unlike an unripe orange - peel away the beautiful skin and you expose the bitter-sweet segments beneath the fruit’s surface. Once again Farhadi looks at a family in disintegration, a family whose fractured relationships with one another make for riveting viewing. On this occasion the setting is Paris, amidst a melting pot of French, Iranian and Arab characters who are caught up in a set of circumstances that in some way represents life in today’s multicultural Europe, where physical, cultural and emotional barriers are constantly being crossed and re-crossed.
After an absence of four years, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Teheran to finalize his divorce from his estranged wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). In the meantime, Marie has developed a strong relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), who runs a laundry business. As you peel off this introductory layer, in which the main players initially seem happy with their choices, you discover that there are three children caught up in this drama - Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and Lea (Jeanne Jestin), are Marie’s daughters and five-year-old Fouad (Elyes Aguis), is Samir’s son. And there is another actor in this play, for Samir’s current wife is lying in a hospital bed in a coma.
The intertwined families’ circumstances are emotionally fraught and Ahmad spends much of his time putting out fires and trying to unravel what lies beneath the surface. Farhadi’s intriguing script keeps you on your toes as other characters enter the plot and it begins to twist and turn, all the while keeping the players and their audience in its sensitive grip. The performances are superb, especially Bejo, who deservedly won Best Actress at Cannes this year; equally impressive is Pauline Burlet, as her eldest daughter Lucie, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her on-screen mother. Lucie is harbouring a secret that she finds unbearable and it’s causing her problems in accepting her mother’s impending marriage, so the role’s veracity is crucial to the script’s core.
Farhadi’s collaboration with Mahmoud Kalari, the Iranian cinematographer, who worked with him on A Separation, makes for a rich, visually compelling drama. This is an exquisite piece of film-making that will leave you pondering the human condition and the complexities of today’s world; but it is ultimately about love and how one must let go of the past in order to embrace the future.