Just because this fleeting thing we call time marches on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we move on with it as sometimes we remain emotionally, psychologically, romantically, spiritually – even somewhat physically – stuck in moments of the past.
And no film captures this idea better than the Cannes Ecumenical Jury Prize winner The Past which introduces us to an extended group of people that are making plans and doing everything they can to move forward beyond various life-changing events (some public, some private) that have kept parts of them forever bookmarked in time and place.
Cinematically reminiscent of both 1950s Douglas Sirk movies and Three Colors era Krzysztof Kieślowski, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s riveting follow-up to his 2012 Oscar, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award winner A Separation centers on the dramatic fallout that occurs with regard to another separated couple.
Hoping to get remarried to her new boyfriend (Tahar Rahim), a French mother of two named Marie (played by Cannes award winning Best Actress Bérénice Bejo) invites her estranged Iranian husband Ahmad (Ali Mostaffa) to Paris to grant her a divorce – completely unprepared for the collision of past and present that coincides with her plans for the future.
An intelligently crafted soap opera, The Past is as riveting as an Agatha Christie mystery due to the intricacy with which Farhadi reveals one emotionally devastating puzzle piece after another and allows us to continually rearrange the evidence to create a constantly changing portrait of an extended family.
Yet even when he threatens to go too far off the melodramatic deep end, writer/director Farhadi manages to keep things universally relatable against all odds.
Furthermore, unlike far too many American dramas that tell you how to feel with song cues, everything is left open to psychological interpretation… including the possible implication of the film’s blink-and-you-missed-it final shot that all count on your participation (and thankfully filmmaker commentary on the luxe Blu-ray release) to help clarify.
Throughout the deeply engrossing film, we’re invited to not only speculate as to the real reasons behind the tension between the children and adults in the film (who are often so much wiser than their parents) but also place ourselves in the unenviable shoes of its complex characters who go through the emotional wringer from start to finish.
While thankfully it does provide a number of answers, one of the most fascinating things about The Past is that the characters – and by extension the viewer – is then faced with the prospect of what (if anything) to do with the information.
Easily the most impressive Sirkian adult foreign drama I’ve seen since I first discovered the films of Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, After the Wedding), while unfortunately The Past failed to receive an Academy Award nomination for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film, it is both vastly superior to and infinitely more relatable than this year’s Italian surrealist winner The Great Beauty.
The type of work wherein the less you know going in the better, The Past may be a sophisticated Iranian-French coproduction but it could just as well have taken place in any country.
Yet fortunately because of the origins of its director, The Past has helped shine much needed light on the talented directors of the Iranian filmmaking community, which has sadly been overshadowed for decades due to political unrest.
Now hopefully thanks to present hits – from great Iranian helmers of the past like Children of Heaven’s Majid Majidi to masters of the future like Asghar Farhadi – Iranian cinema won’t remain a secret for long as time marches on.
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