out of Five
Running time: 130
Writer-director Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to the Oscar-winning A Separation is an intensely gripping emotional drama with a superb script and a trio of terrific central performances from Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim and Ali Mossaffa.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, The Past stars Ali Mosaffa as Ahmad, an Iranian man who returns to France when his separated wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) asks him for a divorce, so she can move on with her new partner, dry-cleaner Samir (Tahar Rahim). To Ahmad's dismay, Marie has not booked him into a hotel and instead expects him to stay in the house she shares with Samir and their three children from previous marriages, including Samir's young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) and Marie's 16 year old daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet).
Marie's motivations soon become clear: she has become exasperated with Lucie's recent behaviour and asks Ahmad to see if he can talk to her and find out why she has suddenly become so angry. Meanwhile, Ahmad's presence exacerbates tensions within the family, particularly when he
discovers the full extent of their situation, namely that Samir is still married and that his wife is in a coma.
Farhadi is a skilled director of actors and he duly coaxes terrific performances from all three leads, as well as each of the child actors. Bejo is superb as Marie, a complex and flawed character who's not above both manipulation (such as her deliberate failure to book Ahmad a hotel) or taking her suppressed anger out on the children, exploding at the two youngest ones for minor annoyances.
Mosaffa is equally good as Ahmad, a kind-hearted man who has an easy rapport with the children, which in itself provides further tension, since Lucie doesn't appear to get on with Samir. Similarly, Rahim is excellent as Samir, who's trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances and Burlet has a good line in teenage stroppiness as Lucie.
The skilfully written script makes the audience work hard to suss out the complex relationships, deliberately withholding which, if any, of the three children might be Ahmad's, for example. It also exerts a tight emotional grip throughout, ratcheting up the tension before delivering a series of heart-wrenching twists and revelations.
In addition, the film is brilliantly photographed, with Farhadi and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari confining the action to mostly interior shots, which heightens the sense of tension and claustrophobia. He also effectively uses symbolism in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, such as an early shot of Ahmad and Marie failing to communicate through a plate glass window that divides them at the airport.
The Past is a powerfully compelling drama that exerts a tight emotional grip, thanks to a superbly written script, assured direction and terrific performances from Bejo, Rahim and Mosaffa. Highly