The Past Review

Posted: March 26, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

ThePastPosterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In recent years, Hollywood has shied away from dramas as a genre. Most Hollywood films have various levels of drama incorporated within them, but it has become rare to see a Hollywood produced film which doesn’t fall into a pre-established genre. Audiences looking for dramas without genre elements have had to turn to the independent scene and foreign films. One such foreign drama, the 2011 Iranian film A Separation, was not only one of the best dramas of the last few years, but one of the best films period. The film also established writer/director Asghar Farhadi as a bold new talent worth watching. Any follow-up Farhadi would put forth would be judged with considerable scrutiny. That follow-up is The Past, another domestic drama, and I’m happy to report the film lives up to the high standards Farhadi set for himself.

The Past opens with a middle-aged man named Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arriving at an airport in Paris. There, he is met by Marie (Bérénice Bejo) who we eventually learn is his wife. Ahmad has been living in Iran for the last four years, and has returned to grant Marie’s divorce request. Ahmad is surprised to learn that Marie has been romantically involved with a man named Samir (Tahar Rahim) for the last few months, and is living with Samir and his son. Marie’s eldest Lucie (Pauline Burlet) does not approve of her mother seeing Samir, which Ahmad attributes to typical teen anxiety. However as Ahmad spends more time in Paris, he begins to learn that things are far more complicated than they initially appear.

 

This is a very vague plot description, but I dare not say more. Like A Separation, one of the greatest pleasures of The Past is simply allowing the story unfold in front of oneself. There aren’t plot twists per say, but the film takes a lot of interesting and unexpected turns. Most of these turns are actually revelations of things which transpired by the start of the film and they serve to not only make the story more interesting at any given point, but also enhance the meaning of all that has happened prior. The various reveals are dealt out slowly throughout the film. Farhadi wisely builds the characters and foreshadows clues of where the film is going before dropping any of the more major turns. Some viewers may be turned off by the slow pace, but others will be rewarded for their patience.

In addition to being rewarding on an immediate level, the story is also thematically engaging in a multitude of ways. The Past makes a point of showing how the three children in the story (two ten year olds and a teenage daughter) are affected by the various domestic problems which plague the adult characters. The film also does a great showing how the children may not have the maturity to react appropriately, but still showing that they have enough intelligence to understand what is going on around them. Another major theme the film ponders is the nature of responsibility. This is most expressed through Ahmad. His very reason for being in Paris is to fulfill the wishes of his ex-wife because he feels he owes it to her. However after granting the divorce, Ahmad remains in Paris for several more days. Why? Well, he feels it’s his responsibility to help clean up the problems which are affected Marie and the kids. But is it really his responsibility? He’s no longer technically a part of their family, to what extent should he be involved if at all? The theme of responsibility also comes through in third act with several characters asking who is responsible for a certain event which I cannot spoil. The major theme of the film does not really emerge until the third act, and that theme is that of the past. Given that much of this is tied to major revelations I won’t give away, I can’t say much in this regard. I will say however that the film analyzes what we can know from the past and how we can learn from it in a very interesting way.

The Past also benefits from an excellent cast. Bérénice Bejo has received considerable attention for her role as a troubled mother and it’s well earned. Marie is a character going through a very delicate situation which becomes more complex as the narrative continues. Bejo captures the character and the high emotions of Marie perfectly while also managing to be sympathetic even when doing unlikable things. Tahar Rahim is also quite good as Simir. For much of the film’s first half, Rahim subtly builds Simir as a well-intentioned guy, if a bit meek. However he’s given some great material in the second half and really shines. Of course, I’m not surprised by the performances from Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim, being a fan of her work in The Artist and his in A Prophet. What is surprising however, is the strength of the rest of the cast. Ali Mosaffa is great as Ahmad, perfectly capturing a man who wants to do the right thing for the people he loves, yet also showing he’s in a situation he’s very uncomfortable with. Pauline Berlot is also very strong as the teenage daughter and more than holds her own with the more experienced adults. Even the young child actors Elyes Aguis and Jeanne Jestin perform give strong performances. Farhadi clearly has a talent with actors.

Though it is subtle, The Past also succeeds visually. Moving away from the hand-held camera work of A Separation, Farhadi and cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari give the film a very professional look while still retaining a sense of intimacy. The camera movements are fluid and Farhadi uses enough interesting shots to keep the film visually interesting. The cinematography isn’t anything mind blowing, but it is very well-done, enhancing the film without distracting from the story.

A Separation would be an extremely tough act for any filmmaker to follow, but Asghar Farhadi has pulled it off masterfully. The Past is slowly paced, but the patient viewer will be rewarded with an extremely interesting story, brought to life by some great performances. The film is also very intelligent and proves to be extremely thought-provoking long after it’s over. This is top-notch filmmaking.

A+

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. Some may piss and moan about how much of this flick is just people talking, but it’s a whole bunch of talking that heightens the emotions of this story, as well as make these characters seem like people we should invest our time in.

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