Review by-Jarrett Leahy
In 2011, Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi made a tremendous splash on the international film scene with his masterful family drama A Separation, a movie that earned him a throng of awards including the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The Past or Le Passe is Farhadi’s follow-up film. Like A Separation, The Past is an engrossing family drama that skillfully engulfs the viewer from the opening scene.
Ahmad, an Iranian man who four years prior had left his French wife Maria and her two children from a previous marriage, has now come back to Paris to finalize their divorce. During his return, Ahmad discovers that in his absence Maria has started a relationship with another man, Samir, who along with his son Fouad, has recently moved into Maria’s house. To make matters even more convoluted, Samir is still married to a woman who has been hospitalized for the last eight months in a coma, a situation that infuriates Maria’s oldest daughter Lucie. Though residual sentiments between Ahmad and Maria are clearly evident, it is the many untold secrets surrounding Maria and Samir’s love affair that creates a tension filled atmosphere that only becomes more agitated by the effects it has on the children involved.
Berenice Bejo’s portrayal of Maria is the standout of three very distinguished performances. Bejo, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2011 surprise hit, The Artist, is able to further display her adroit acting range with this emotionally complex character who is being torn between a man she can’t fully have and a daughter whose instigative comments and actions only make the situation worse. Through Bejos’ outward display of Maria’s inner strife, we empathize with this woman even in spite of her conspicuous flaws.
Another performance deserving of praise is that of young actor Elyes Aguis, who made his screen debut playing Samir’s son Fouad. With a mother hooked up to machines and a father who is now living with another woman, Aguis’ impetuous outbursts so perfectly exhibited the confusion and anxiety of a boy who is uncertain of his confounding and irresolute world.
Though not quite as moving as A Separation, The Past is still an enthralling, pressure packed family drama with adept depictions of guilt and regret. The film’s emotionally complex and entangled storyline remains engrossing throughout thanks in large part to Farhadi’s gifted ability to slowly and deliberately reveal the many layers of his intricate story, each building on the last, leading to an understated yet deeply haunting ambiguous ending that leaves you with more unanswered questions.