“The Past” (2013)
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has not seen his wife in four years since leaving her behind in Paris to go back to his life in Iran. He has come back to sign the divorce papers and see his family and friends one more time before returning home. His wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo) has had a number of relationships since her husband left. She is now living with her two kids, 16 year old Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and younger Lea (Jeanne Jestin), both are not Ahmad’s. They all live within Ahmad’s old home with Marie’s fiancé, Samir (Tahar Rahim) who has a son of his own named Fouad (Elyes Aguis).
Ahmad has been dragging his heels on giving the divorce and has come back to see if there is still a spark between him and Marie. The first scene of the film symbolizes their relationship as Ahmad has arrived at the airport and does not see Marie, even though she stands just a few feet away from him on the other side of a glass wall. When they do see each other, they communicate through the glass, even though they cannot hear each other. Once they get in the car Ahmad discovers that Marie didn’t make the hotel reservations for him because she didn’t think he would show up (he apparently had cancelled at the last minute in the past). Now he must stay in a home that was once his while his wife sleeps with another man. It seems that this couple only communicates with each other when it’s convenient for both people.
The film is about each character’s past. Marie can’t let go of her anger from her failed relationships. Ahmad is haunted by his past decisions, including leaving Marie. Lucie is convinced that Marie will continue what she has done in the past, to get involved with men and then leave them. All the characters in this film have let the past consume them, to the point that they can’t move forward.
The film’s director / writer Asghar Farhadi does a masterful job of letting us slowly know each character so that by the end of the film, we understand each of their choices that they have made. We might not agree with their choices, but we fully understand why they made them. The film never seems slow, mostly because in each scene we are learning so much about each person. The film has a number of mysteries, some of which are solved, but never completely or clearly, and others will linger long after the film ends.
It is set in Paris, but it’s not the bright, sunny city of a romantic comedy, but it’s a dark, wet city because it seems to be continually raining. Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari does a great job setting the scenes with lighting that seems warm when inside the house, but cold and distant when the characters go out into the world.
Bejo’s Marie is the center of the film and her performance is magical. It’s a character that another actress would had made shrill and possible hated. Bejo allows us to see her as a very vulnerable woman. A woman who struggles to find happiness for herself and her children, but much like her home which she is shown endlessly painting, it’s a work in progress. Ali Mosaffa gives a restrained performance as Ahmad, a man who seems to want to fix his families problems, all the while avoiding his own. It’s a compelling performance in a role that is multilayered. I particularly liked Jeanne Jestin, as the troubled teenager Lea. She gives off a quality in her performance where you know that there is more to her story than she is letting on. Her performance adds substance to one of the many mysteries in this film.
Farhadi, as he did with his Oscar winning film “A Separation” (2011), brings us a film that explores the relationships of a complicated family. It’s a film full of twists and turns, with characters that seem simple at first, but, as we soon learn, have a number of skeletons in their closet. It’s an engrossing film about a family that is haunted by the choices they made not only in the past, but also in the present. My Rating: Full Price
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