Merry Christmas, everyone! With The holidays in full swing, and the inevitable Oscar season beginning, I thought I would finally turn my attention to the Iranian-French film, The Past. Anyone who has been reading my blog since April knows that this has been my most highly anticipated movie of the year, mainly for two reasons. It’s the first film to be directed by Asghar Farhadi since his excellent, Oscar winning Iranian drama A Separation, and it also stars the fabulous Berenice Bejo, who had already made high marks in 2011’s The Artist.
Having been prepped by Farhadi before A Separation even began filming, and originally intended to have Marion Cotillard in the lead role (which, having seen the film, I’m not sure she would have carried it as well), The Past received a lot of hype and anticipation out of the Cannes and Toronto International Film Festivals. Personally, I was not disappointed. Acting as something of an unofficial sequel to A Separation, The Past explores the themes previously established in that film, and refines them to even more robust order.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has flown in to Paris to finalize the divorce with his soon to be ex-wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), after the two have already been separated for four years, and when we get a good luck at the situation, things get even more troubling than before. Marie looks after her two daughters from a previous marriage, and is in a relationship with a man named Samir (Tahar Rahim), who lives with Marie along with his son, and whose wife is currently in a coma. This series of events doesn’t sit well with the eldest daughter (Pauline Burlet), who doesn’t approve of the relationship, due to very personal secrets that, once they are finally revealed, highly heat the tension between the family members.
The main thing that grabs my attention of The Past is the writing, unsurprising due to Farhadi’s masterful talent with dialogue and honest human emotions. He treats the whole situation in a very sensitive fashion, never going over the top with events, which allow for more subtlety in reactions. Whereas A Separation seemed to place most of its focus on the adults’ reaction to events, The Past mixes that with equal focus on the children. Everything plays out in a natural, organic fashion, with every action committed in the film always having a rhyme and reason to it. Characters always stop to consider the consequences of their actions, both before and after they’ve occurred, and it feels incredibly empathetic. All the while I was watching this movie, I would ask myself “How would I react to a situation like this?” or “How would I respond to something like this?” and I found myself in total awe of how realistically everything played out. It portrays stunningly accurate depictions of guilt, grief, and family conflicts, with dilemmas that made me believe into this life, and that never once took me out of the experience. Even when some scenes threaten to do just that, they’re put right back into fascinating context, which makes me love it all the more for that.
Not to be forgotten is Farhadi’s direction, which is every bit as naturalistic and sensitive as the writing. Whereas a lesser filmmaker would have wimped out in numerous areas, he completely commits to the tone of this movie, constructing something entirely sure of itself, and gracefully flowing scene-to-scene with not a weak moment in sight, especially in regards to the cast. To be honest, there’s not a single weak performance in this movie. Every bit as authentic as their counterparts on paper, the actors all know exactly what each moment demands of them, with each of them performing it to the boldest degree. I found myself unsurprisingly most fond of Bejo, who will certainly go down as giving one of the best performances of the year. A complete 180 from her energetic and upbeat Peppy from The Artist, Marie is a very tired person, and not just in the physical sense. A woman who has as much grace as any unconditionally loving mother, she tries her hardest to not let the everyday stress ruin her composure. Howeve, those walls eventually fall down hard, leaving her to bare every ache in her heart in the movie’s later moments. Bejo simply brings something so unattainable in her actions that no other actress could have delivered on. The other main cast members are also excellent, with Mosaffa as a deeply caring father trying to make sense of situations, Rahim believably torn apart by his past actions, and Burlet creating a devastating portrait of guilt continually eating away at her.
On that note, what didn’t I appreciate about this movie? Well, that’s an incredibly short answer. If there was a flaw to be found in this film, I never saw it. AT ALL! I think this is just a perfect movie, with Farhadi taking note from everything that worked for him with A Separation, and refining and expanding upon it to a fine level of polish that I would actually consider as superior to its predecessor. So I guess that begs the question: Does this mean it’s what I consider to be the best film of 2013?
Possibly, but if it’s not, it’s extremely close. Right now, I’d say that position is a neck-and-neck race between this film, and Gravity. Both films have undoubtedly been the cream of the crop for movies this year, and no matter which film takes said position, I won’t have any complaints. As for The Past, Farhadi has created a wonderful drama, and practically turned it into an experience. If ever you get the chance to see this movie… do it!
***** / *****