You Can’t Hide your ‘Past’ Forever
Though I have seen a decent number of foreign films in my life, I had seen only one in an actual theater until recently — “The Raid: Redemption,” which ended up being one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences I’ve had in my life. After nearly two years, I have added a second entry to that list, the Golden Globe-nominated French feature, “The Past.”
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), a middle-aged Iranian man, has returned to Paris for the first time in four years to finalize the divorce procedure with his soon-to-be French ex-wife, Marie-Anne (Bérénice Bejo). While also revisiting Marie’s daughters from a previous marriage, Ahmad is introduced to her new boyfriend, Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man who has a son and a wife that is in a coma. However, his visit is quickly strained when a shocking revelation from Marie’s eldest daughter ignites a swarm of hidden secrets that cause tense drama between the three adults and their kids.
Loosely drawing from elements of his 2011 Oscar-winning feature, “A Separation,” Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi develops another painfully honest portrayal of a family in moral decay. While “The Past” does not reach the high bar that he set with “A Separation,” it is still a finely crafted drama full of rich characterization and riveting performances.
As a stressed mother in the middle of all the increasing turmoil, Bérénice Bejo delivers a towering performance, one that awarded her the Best Actress award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Playing a role like this can either be encapsulating or tedious for an audience member, but Bejo is so radiant on screen that her performance fortunately falls into the former category.
As Ahmad, Ali Mosaffa delivers an almost equally great performance, albeit with a different approach to his role. Mosaffa plays his role with a palpable dose of subtlety, which expresses his character’s quiet form of self-assurance. His performance as a whole had such a profound effect on me that I often felt sympathy for him, caught up in an endless wave of overwhelming drama that never seemed to end.
Tahar Rahim is also quite sublime as Marie’s new boyfriend, Samir. He is laid back in his screen presence, which enhances the ambiguity of his character’s emotional state, in regard to his current spot in life.
As a writer, Farhadi maintains an excellent adherence to building up tension and plot twists with astutely gentle precision. He fools the audience with a set-up that seems too simple to a fault, but as the many hidden layers of the main characters are peeled away, the core of the story manages to become deeper than each twist.
Aided well by Farhadi’s sensitive direction, the main message that the film gets across is not just that you can’t hide your past forever, but also that it continues to stay with you in the present. Therefore, only until someone reveals their own personal secrets can they live in the present without feeling anxious.
Overall, apart from a few pacing issues in the final act, “The Past” is a compelling, amply layered drama that fortunately manages to stay remarkably humanistic throughout, without getting too soap opera-y. Asghar Farhadi has once again proved himself to be one of cinema’s best international filmmakers, and I can hardly wait until he releases his next feature.
RECOMMENED: Fans of foreign features should be pleased with Farhadi’s latest film.