Film review: The Past charts another separation

Tahar Rahim, Bernice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa

The Past
Asghar Farhadi
In cinemas from February 6

Asghar Farhadi's latest film Le Passe or The Past will probably become a film used by relationship therapists for the way it deals with the ripples of problems that emanate from a marriage breakdown, its effects on new relationships and the children involved.

The film follows Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) who returns to Paris from Tehran after a four-year separation, to meet his French wife Marie (Bernice Bejo, in order to finalise their divorce proceedings.

During his stay, he finds that he is sharing his former  house with Marie’s new partner, Samir (Tahar Rahim) along with his two children and  Samir‘s son. As well as the stand-off between the two men, he discovers the conflicting nature of Marie’s relationship with her daughter Lucie. Ahmad’s efforts to improve this relationship lead him into layers of secrets.

As in A Separation, director Asghar Farhadi manages to extract extraordinary performances from his leads without having them resort to overly dramatic action. There is a restraint and normalcy which makes the film all the more telling when emotions erupt.

Often it is the taut no-verbal communications that explain and explore the relationship more than the dialogues, often heightened by the camerawork of Mahmoud Kalari .

While the main characters are superbly cast, the children, notably Pauline Burlet as Ahmad’s teenage daughter Lucie and Luis Aguis as Samir’s young son Fouad. They manage to embody not only their own problems of dealing with the family relationships but also the frustrations of the adults.

Throughout the film there is a sense that we are not being told the full story. In some cases this is because of events that have happened in the past. Some of these are revealed but some are never explained, just as some human motivations are never fully understood.

At the beginning of the film we learn that Marie has not booked Ahmad into a hotel but takes him to their old house where she is living with Samir. She never explains why – does she do it for some sort of humiliation or revenge? Does she want to renew her relationship with Ahmad? Her decision confuses and provokes both men.

There is disconcerting undertone around Marie's relationship with her daughter from whom she seems estranged. Is this just teenage angst and rebellion?, has there been molestation or is there some other secret? Hidden in this mix of accusations and mystery is the suicide of Samir’s wife and the exposure oif another relationship

Asghar Farhadi says of Marie “She is the one who is the most determined to move on and not to be stuck in the past. But who knows if she’ll be able to do it? Men are more burdened by the past. In the last scene with Marie, she walks toward us, toward the camera. Ahmad is behind her and she says: "I don’t want to look back anymore." And then she turns her back to the camera, and to us the viewers. She also leaves us behind. To that extent, she can be considered as the most progressive character. Who knows why in all my films, women have these kind of roles."

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