The Past Review
Thoughtful and familiar, intimate and authentic
Iranian Writer/Director Asghar Farhadi – whose stunning A Separation became the first Iranian film to win an Oscar – follows it up with his sixth feature, The Past, a French-Italian-Iranian production.Farhadi’s focus has always been on family drama and the relationships within, and The Past is no exception, following the soon-to-be-divorced Ahmad and Marie in their last few days before they sign the divorce papers and Marie marries another man. Ahmad has been living abroad for the past four years, whilst Marie has been flitting from relationship to relationship, unable to make them work beyond a few years, despite having young children who are just victims to this situation.This time, she feels, it will be different, but her teenage daughter is going off the rails, and she hopes that Ahmad will stay long enough to help deal with her. Of course, Marie’s new beau, Samir, is none too impressed, but he’s got his own issues to resolve, with a wife who has been in a coma for months, and a young son who is just as confused about what is happening to their family.
With a sharp eye for natural relationships and family friction – as well as acute observation on dissolving marriages and dormant feelings – Farhadi knows this particularly playground well, trading in characters which feel like very real entities, and capturing the interactions therein with stunning precision. He elicits powerful performances from his cast members, dominated not by grandstanding furore but nuanced flourishes and sheer, raw honesty. The Past is certainly no exception, trading in a trio of lead adult performances – a past husband played excellently by Ali Mosaffa, a future husband rendered in a more reserved fashion by Tamir Rahim, and the woman caught in limbo in-between, The Artist’s Berenice Bejo – as well as a trio of excellent younger contributions.
Impressive as this may be, it's impossible not to draw comparisons with the superior A Separation.
Ultimately, The Past is not quite as accomplished as his last feature, A Separation, and suffers from comparison. Perhaps it is the more-familiar French setting, which dilutes the atypical cultural environment previously at the core of his Iran-based features; perhaps it is because the story he is trying to tell is simply too grand and convoluted to maintain the same level of precision focus – his narrative shifts from character to character a little too jarringly, riding from the relationship between the two exes to the relationship with the teen daughter to the mystery surrounding the comatose wife with a little too much wild abandon, losing the viewer somewhat along the way. It is worth seeing for the performances alone, and boasts the same intimate family study that Farhadi is known for, but it is not the near-perfect entity that was A Separation, and it is impossible to avoid that comparison.
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