Film Review: ‘The Past’

One of a number of talented Iranian creatives currently working outside their own country (some, like fellow director Jafar Panahi, are unable to vacate), Oscar-winning filmmaker Asghar Farhadi leaves behind the miasma of his home nation for the Paris-set The Past (2013), another fantastically intricate exercise in domestic complexity. Starring regular collaborator Ali Mosaffa, The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo and A Prophet lead Tahar Rahim, Farhadi once again seeks to root out the metaphorical skeletons in the closet of one particular family whose multiple layers of secrets and lies – be they harmful or necessary – have irrevocably altered the lives of those around them.

Following a four-year mutual separation, Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran upon his French wife Marie’s (Bejo) behest in order to finalise their drawn-out divorce procedure. During his stay, Ahmad quickly discovers the destructive nature of Marie’s relationship with her eldest daughter, the wayward Lucie (Pauline Burlet). However, Ahmad’s attempts to build bridges between the two headstrong women soon begin to encroach on Marie’s new partner – and prospective husband – dry cleaner owner Samir (Rahim). As tensions steadily mount – increasingly involving Samir’s current wife, who is deep in a coma following a failed suicide attempt – a long-buried list of misdemeanours slowly emerge.

As was firmly the case with Farhadi’s last offering, Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award winner A Separation (2011), the duplicity inherent in the adult world slowly filters down to infect and impact upon the next generation. Lucie, arguably the most intertwined in The Past’s ever more intriguing events, visibly struggles to cope with her apparent role in the corrosion of Samir’s current marriage. Meanwhile, his own children Fouad (newly crowned prince of the mistrustful frown, Elyes Aguis) and Léa (a similarly impressive Jeanne Jestin, also making her screen debut) are caught in the crossfire between himself, future wife Marie and Mosaffa’s bemused third wheel. A modern master of the morally-challenging, Farhadi leads us to question not the ‘whos’ but the ‘whys’, with even Fouad and Léa integral amidst his yarn’s great unravelling.

Whilst perhaps not quite on the same top-tier level of A Separation, The Past once again cements Farhadi’s position as one of world cinema’s finest working filmmakers, capable of flipping his labyrinthine familial fables with the smallest, most inconsequential of actions. Outside of his native Iran, Farhadi may have lost some of his politics spurred veracity, but makes up for it with a perfectly assembled multinational ensemble and delicate, nuanced performances from his latest’s terrific central triumvirate. Bejo, in particular, proves herself more than capable of slipping into a role that was once allegedly destined for Marion Cotillard, whilst Mosaffa and Rahim are both superb as almost-love rivals confined together in a marital hinterland dictated by bureaucratic paperwork rather than burning passion.

Daniel Green