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The Past (Le Passé)

Graham Eley

An auteur, in the true sense, runs the risk of repetition or contrivance, of course, when engaging with dominant themes over and over again.  Asghar Farhadi’s latest picture, The Past (Le Passé), returns to one – the forensic deconstruction of a failed marriage – that has yielded the internationally acclaimed and multiple award winner, ‘A Separation’ and the lesser known but equally good ‘Fireworks Wednesday’, two of the finest films on the subject and every bit Bergman’s equal – easily.  But success – here, in the artistic sense – raises the stakes and, as the proverbial curtains opened for the new one, the pressure was on for Farhadi to deliver something different.

 

Farhadi shifts the location from his native Iran to France but both ‘A Separation’ and ‘Fireworks Wednesday’ had a universality that transcended our pre-conceived notions of Iranian society with his characters – particularly those from the middle classes – sharing many similarities with their counterparts in the Western world; something that isn’t evident from the Iranian new-wave’s gritty social realism.

 

And it’s an Iranian man, Ahmad, who arrives at Charles de Gaulle airport in the opening sequence to see his estranged wife, Maria, whom he had deserted four years earlier after a nervous breakdown.  They greet on opposite sides of a glass barrier and mouth words that neither they or we understand, but it’s no bar to a wider communication through familiarity and gesture.  Farhadi dazzles us with his stylistic box of tricks – we immediately wanted to see it again – opening and closing the space through mise-en-scène, cinematography and sound – or lack of – in conjunction with the characters navigating their way through the maze-like terminal; prefiguring much of what is to come in dramatic form.  It’s jaw dropping.

 

This feels like a reunion but it’s not.  Ahmad has returned at Marie’s request to put the final seal on the endgame – divorce – but discovers that she has not booked his hotel for an obviously fabricated reason; forcing him to stay at her apartment, their former marital home, which she now shares with a new lover, Samir, his son and her two daughters from an even earlier marriage.  Her motives are unclear; revenge and second thoughts seem a possibility but never quite fit.

 

It’s all as uncomfortable as it sounds – often difficult to watch – but something was very wrong before Ahmad arrived and we soon find ourselves in a classic Farhadi ‘shit happens’ set up ‘A Separation’ style.  Samir’s son rejects his new home but seemingly cannot live without it, Marie’s eldest daughter rebels uncharacteristically but there seems more to it than the change of circumstances and Samir is on an emotional knife-edge but reveals very little.  It’s intriguing, a complex web of consequences perhaps, but Maria is out of her depth and increasingly turns to Ahmad as the father figure, more out of habit than anything else but, inevitably, leaving Samir’s nose out of joint.

 

But there are other stories playing out off screen with their own pasts, ties and loose ends that have more impact on the characters’ lives than those that Farhadi elects to show.  The ground shifts, we never have the film’s measure, and just as in real life, we always feel that there is more to everything than meets the eye.  It’s fascinating and alienating in equal measure and something that Farhadi does really well.

 

Berenice Bejo (‘The Artist’) and Tahar Rahim (‘ A Prophet’) give both Maria and Samir a crippling self absorption that excludes each other and everybody else – a devastating start to a new relationship – which makes us curious and, ultimately, the film becomes more about them than Ahmad.

 

Ali Mosaffa, who is involved in all the best scenes, plays Ahmad as quietly watchful and perceptive, one more suited to the sidelines where he is destined to return.

 

And the silent past throws up a moral dilemma that not only shapes the present but condemns it.

 

This is an acutely smart piece of filmmaking, or, at least, until the plot starts to resolve itself as we approach the climactic moments, when melodrama raises its unwelcome head and the new tone seems to contradict much of what came before; the plot seemingly straining for more but yielding less.  If only Farhadi had kept it equivocal and completed the perfect trilogy.  Or, was it the presence of the earlier films – the need to differentiate – that sent Farhadi down the wrong path?cialis online pay with paypal generic cialis ebay buy cialis online u.s. pharmacy sale cialis buy cialis malaysia order generic cialis online uk buy cialis online us pharmacy

 

  • Year: 2013
  • Country: France
  • Filmmaker: Asghar Farhadi
  • Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
  • Producer: Alexandre Mallet-Guy
  • Cinematographer: Mahmoud Kalari
  • Editor: Juliette Welfling
  • Cast: Ali Mosaffa, Ali Mostafa, Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim
  • Duration: 130 mins
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