LE PASSÉ (The Past)

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi was propelled into the leading edge of international cinema with the sweeping triumph of A Separation, his 2011 film that started off winning the Golden Bear in Berlin and went on the win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. That The Past was made in France, in French, with a mainly French cast and French backing, may appear at first a "sellout" from a director who managed to straddle a thin line between recognition at home and credibility abroad, and who may now seem to be abandoning the constant difficulties of filming within Iran for the greater freedoms of the world.

     But, in fact, The Past changes not an iota in Mr. Farhadi's work and themes. Its tale of a family struggling with secrets wouldn't need any major changes to take place in Teheran, just as the central issue of A Separation could have equally taken place in France; misunderstandings and family tensions are as universal as they come and, if anything, the new film only shows the director refining his methodical, deliberate way. This is a more assured, more confident film, though that refinement and poise don't really stretch it, thematically and structurally, beyond what About Elly or A Separation achieved - so to speak, it's "variations on a theme", expertly created and performed though without bringing anything much new to the table. Not that should be, or indeed is, a problem; what has always been striking about Mr. Farhadi's work is how much he doesn't conform to the idea we make of modern art-house Iranian cinema, being much less opaque and more classically Western in content and approach; more Claude Sautet, for instance, than Abbas Kiarostami, looking at things from a position of genuine curiosity and interest in how ordinary people respond to things instead of hiding it all behind metaphors or symbols.

     At its heart, The Past is a rather old-fashioned drama about a woman divided: Anne-Marie (Bérénice Bejo) has to deal with a rebellious teenage daughter who makes no secret of her displeasure with mother's new engagement, and the arrival of her second husband to finalise their divorce forces her to confront a series of unresolved issues and misunderstandings that will affect everyone in the household over these few days. Part of what's so good about The Past is how the layers unfold carefully: while the men seem to be the centre of the plot (first Ali Mosaffa as the husband returning to sign the papers, then Tahar Rahim as the fiancé with family issues of his own), in their relationship both with Anne-Marie and her daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), the women are in fact the constant at the heart of the film. As, in fact, is doubt - the key to The Past and to all of the director's previous movies is that inability of fully and truly erasing it from the human heart once it makes its way inside, and what he shows us is how it's what makes us human. In Teheran or in Paris or elsewhere in the world.

Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi, with the collaboration of Massoumeh Lahidji
Cinematography: Mahmood Kalari  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Yevgeny Galperin, Iuli Galperin
Designer: Claude Lenoir
Costumes: Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz
Editor: Juliette Welfling
Producer: Alexandre Mallet-Guy  (Memento Films Production, France 3 Cinéma and BIM Distribuzione in co-production with Alvy Distribution and CN3 Productions)
France/Italy, 2013, 130 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 14 (Lisbon), December 13th 2013


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