The Past

The Past photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThe incredible promise that Director Asghar Farhadi demonstrated with 2011’s A Separation has proven to be no fluke with his subsequent follow-up, The Past. He recounts human behavior with the precision of an absolute master. The plot is artfully straightforward. Four years after separating from his ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), an Iranian man from Tehran named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), arrives in Paris to finalize his divorce. Marie has 2 daughters from her previous marriage and is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man. Samir’s wife is in a coma and he has a son with her. Director Farhadi’s understanding of the human heart makes the sentimentality of modern movies look like ersatz emotion. The Past is ambitious in its desire to portray human feeling so honestly. It’s ironic because this is about the façades that people put up to mask their genuine desires.

The Past is an intensely intimate drama concerning 3 key people: Marie, Samir, and Ahmad. As was the case with A Separation, everyone’s point of view is displayed. No one is a villain. We tend to identify with ex-husband Ahmad since that is the person through which most of the action is filtered. However each character has their own merits. Bernice Bejo is quite moving as mother Marie. She is a sympathetic, maternal presence that is immediately affecting. She has two daughters from an even earlier marriage before Ahmad. One is a little girl, the other a 16 year old. Bejo portrays an intelligent woman that seems to have everything in order. Then the cracks begin to show. Older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has the warmest regard for her former step dad. The bond with her mother is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother’s current boyfriend Samir. You’ll find yourself vacillating between the various characters trying to decide whose side you’re truly on. What originally appears as the picture of accord, is a woman gently unraveling at the seams.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives. His talent for constructing a fascinating tale from a deceptively simple scenario is nothing less than genius. He starts with routine domestic problems. Then offers an endlessly compelling saga with unflinching honesty. The criteria by which we judge human drama has been elevated. It sets the new emotional high bar by which all other movies must now aspire. Director Asghar Farhadi presents the narrative unencumbered by elaborate devices. Sans music, costumes, special effects, flashbacks, nonlinear storytelling and other stylistic flourishes, he strips the production bare and serves it up to an audience for perusal. Much of the true feeling that percolates beneath the surface is evident not from dialogue, but from body language and gestures. The chronicle considers how we put up walls that impede effective communication. Once again, you think you know the story. As it unfolds, layers are exposed. As developments are revealed we’re drawn deeper into their crumbling relationships. Then the daughter reveals something that threatens to change everything. This is humanity and you cannot look away.

16 Responses to “The Past”

  1. Wow this is a great review. I have maybe seen one or two movies lately that have featured the trailer for this in the previews but I must say, I am hooked. By the sounds of it, if you want emotional, perhaps you should try this film.


    • It wasn’t until I was assembling my Best of 2013, that I realized The Past would make my Top 10. I wanted to publish my list on January 1st, but I still hadn’t written a review. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I posted my Top 10 of 2013 with just a blurb and a picture for The Past only. I subsequently wrote the review and then linked it after the fact.


  2. I’ve been waiting for this all year and am glad to see a high score. I think Farhadi is the most promising director today and A Separation was my second favorite of 2011. Nice review.


    • Asghar Farhadi really has a facility with extracting human drama from our everyday lives. There’s such a clean, simple aesthetic to his work that actually belies a very complex mind.


  3. GaryLee828 Says:

    I like to go into these kinds of films totally fresh, so am holding off reading past the first paragraph. I will come back after I watch it and drop a line. I like complex foreign films like this. You should check out “Jaffa” if you haven’t seen it. I think you’d like it.


  4. Fantastic review, Mark. Curious about this one as I loved A Separation. One of my favorites from its year.


    • You might remember Bérénice Bejo from The Artist. She is phenomenal.

      Her part was originally meant for Marion Cotillard who had to back out due to scheduling conflicts. Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) also stars.


      • It’s always nice to see Marion, as she is one of my favorite actresses, but looking forward to see Bérénice in the role. It was so shocking when this was left out ofthe Foreign Film race at the Oscars. I thought for sure it was gonna win.


      • Yeah the choices for best foreign language film are actually better for the Golden Globes than they will be for the Oscars this year.


  5. this sounds soooo good.


  6. This was magnificent! It was such a true to life, very real story. The acting, especially Bernice, was brilliant. In the same formula as “A separation”, you get multiple changes in the story. It keeps you guessing and glued to the screen 4 1/2 stars


    • There definitely were some favorable similarities to the style of A Separation. Perhaps that “same formula” worked against it when it came time to nominate entries for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

      This didn’t even qualify for the short list. Mon dieu!


  7. “Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has a knack for extracting fervid passion from our everyday lives.”

    Ah, yes, so beautifully said Mark. I really think that is the strength of his filmmaking. He cares about what we do, and why. The Past was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. I had no idea it would contain as much power as it did. Great review.


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