DIR: Asghar Farhadi • WRI: Asghar Farhadi • PRO: Alexandre Mali- Guy, Alexa Rivero • DOP: Mahmoud Kalari • ED: Juliette Welfling • CAST: Ali Mosaffa, Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet
Farhadi follows up his much-admired A Separation (2011) with another low-key family drama. The film sees Farhadi working outside his native Iran for the first time. As the film begins Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris so as to give his wife Marie (Bejo) a divorce. Ahmad soon finds out the reason for Marie’s eagerness to finalise the divorce is because she plans to marry Samir (Rahim), who now along with his son, lives with Marie and Ahmad’s step children. While this initially makes Ahmad uncomfortable, he foregoes his desire to stay in a hotel as opposed to Marie’s house so as to talk to Lucie- Marie’s troubled teenage daughter. Once Ahmad does talk to her it leads to a veritable Pandora’s box of secrets surrounding Samir and his comatose wife, who is being kept alive by life-support.
The film’s key theme is told to us through its title. The characters at the centre of the story are never able to move towards anything verging on a new beginning. Their lives are consistently affected by past events and revelations. Farhadi announces this theme visually early on by interrupting a conversation between Ahmad and Marie with a shot of the back window of the car they are travelling in. These types of visual cues consistently reappear in the film. There are numerous scenes in which characters literally are unable to move forward and get drawn back into an unresolved conversation or an unresolved encounter.
While on the surface, Farhadi’s approach, seems to be from the social realist school he shows a deft hand in portraying the social situations of the characters. Their relative poverty is visible but it is never overly dwelt upon allowing the viewer to ponder the implications of their social statuses on the events that unfold around them, as opposed to being overwhelmed by the grit of their situation. Farhadi ensures that his film never falls into dreaded kitchen sink territory by ensuring a focus on the human condition and by empathizing with his characters on a more universal level and also by the healthy dose of melodrama that is sprinkled into the unfolding revelations.
While Farhadi shows tact and imagination for much of the film, it is a shame then that there is something troubling about representation of gender in the piece. While Bejo, who won best actress at Cannes for this last year, is perfectly fine, her character feels thinly drawn compared with that of Ahmad and Samir. The same can also be said of Lucie and even more troublingly the revelations surrounding Samir’s comatose wife Celine suggest a view of women in which their problems inherently surround the men in their life. While Ahmad is given a certain complexity in references to why he left Marie because of depression, Celine’s problems seem to be down to a neuroses surrounding Samir.
This problematic representation of women and the character of Celine, in particular, are reinforced by a clumsy and overwrought ending. There is also a feeling that despite displaying an astute eye and ear for much of the film, Farhadi, lacks the intellectual rigour of a Fassbinder or a Sirk in his attempts at making the mechanics of melodrama profound. For all this, though, the film remains worth seeing. Ultimately the film may fall short of its potential but it’s still a gripping, humane piece of work.
The Past is released on 28th March 2014