The Past (France: Le passe), 2013.
Directed by Asghar Farhadi.
Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, and Pauline Burlet.
An Iranian man deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. Meanwhile, his wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife’s request for a divorce.
As with his previous two films, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s outstanding new work centres on unhappy couples, marital breakdown and divorce. This time around, the action takes place in France, though with an Iranian man as one of the central figures. The film opens at the airport with Marie (Bérénice Bejo) waiting eagerly and somewhat tentatively for Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) to arrive. As they mouth words to each other through the glass that separates them, Marie smiling and holding a bouquet, we assume they are a couple about to be reunited. Driving home through a downpour, we learn that these two were once married and that Ahmad is back in France merely to finalise their divorce. As the rain beats down on the windscreen the opening title appears, only to be erased by the back and forth movement of the wipers. As the story unfolds, we will learn that the past is not so easy to erase and that, like the incessant rain, you can eliminate it for just a while before the deluge pours back down on you.
After Ahmad’s four-year absence, Marie’s life has moved on. She has a new man Samir (Tahar Rahim), who is in the process of moving into Marie’s home with his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis). Also living in the house are Marie’s two daughters from a previous relationship, the rebellious Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and young Léa. The house itself is in the process of being redecorated. Ahmad immediately notices a missing shelf that once held his books. It appears that Marie is renovating not just her house, but making a fresh start.
However, the house is unfinished and only partially renewed. Much of it remains as it was when Ahmad was around and he still has suitcases in the shed, literally hidden baggage from their past life together.
The people we see in this house are all torn between their past and making a break in order to move on with their future. Fouad wants to go home, but when this reality presents itself he wants to move back with Marie. Samir wants to create a new family with Marie whilst his current wife lies in a coma after a botched suicide attempt. His constant visits to her hospital bedside and attempts to reawaken her again demonstrate this difficulty in relinquishing the past. Ahmad is told by a friend that he has to choose between Iran and France, that he cannot choose both. Lucie doesn’t want her mum to have a new man in the house but for reasons that only become clear much later.
Farhad skilfully and delicately weaves these stories together. Some of them are dramatic and tragic, yet he never veers into melodrama. His scenes involving the children move you to tears without feeling manipulated. Fouad in particular brings a sincerity and intensity to the screen that is prodigious for his years, and says much about the director’s experience of working with child actors. Yet all of the cast are superb: like the house they are often seen in, they are messy, shambolic and in need of renewal, but they are warm, compassionate and real. The Past will certainly not be easy to forget or erase from your memory.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Jo Ann Titmarsh