Le Passé | The Past (2013)
When it comes to portraying a simple & elegant domestic life on-screen and skilfully transform it into an extremely riveting drama that is tense enough to border on the lines of a great thriller, no other filmmaker of the current era has done as excellent a job at that as the esteemed Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi. He accomplished that with Fireworks Wednesday, raised the standards with About Elly & turned it into an absolute perfection with the Academy Award winning A Separation. And now, with The Past, Farhadi heads out of his native country & language for the first time and yet again, manages to deliver a staggering masterpiece of intricate human drama.
On a superficial level, The Past is an observation of our own past lives, and how it always retains an ability to seep into our present & alter the course of our future for better or worse. The movie is mainly concerned with the lives of four people. Ahmad is an Iranian man who has arrived in Paris after four years to reunite with his estranged wife, Marie, in order to finalise the divorce procedures. Marie is in a new relationship with an Arab man named Samir, who has a son of his own & whose wife is in coma, which, as a result, has also stained the bonding between her & Lucie, her elder daughter. Events eventually take a drastic turn & things are set in motion when Lucie makes a shocking revelation to Ahmad about the comatose state of Samir’s wife.
Once again, writer-director Asghar Farhadi has done a fabulous job with the script & direction as The Past makes use of all his trademarks in the same impressive manner as his previous works. The meticulously crafted screenplay is masterfully rendered on-screen with Farhadi using just truth & lies to build up doubts in the minds of the viewers, which later gets further complicated with the film’s progression, thanks to the cleverly executed twists & turns in its narration. Cinematography makes effective use of camera angles to deftly capture the emotions of its characters while also providing a calm ambience to the entire film. Editing slightly slows down the pacing to make the film more absorbing. And, by not distracting viewers from its story, the film’s technical aspects only helped in elevating the entire emotional experience to a great extent.
Coming to the acting department, the wholehearted performances by the entire cast gives this film an authentic feel & makes the drama much more convincing. Ahmad is played by Ali Mosaffa, who does a brilliant job in capturing the stuffed up emotions of his character. Tahar Rahim honestly captures the confused & torn plight of Samir who is looking forward to settling down with Marie but still has feelings for his comatose wife. However, the most impressive performance comes from Bérénice Bejo, who plays Marie Brisson, a woman caught between the men from her past & present while struggling to deal with the differences with her elder daughter, and her Best Actress Award at 2013 Cannes Film Festival was very well-deserved. The young & beautiful Pauline Burlet also shines as Lucie and, in some scenes, even bested the rest of the cast. The remaining cast is equally amazing as well, especially the kid who plays Samir’s son, Fouad.
Before this French drama, every single film by Asghar Farhadi was set in Iran and, in addition to its main story, also represented the different sections of Iranian society. The Past is the first film that brings the director out of his comfort zone and in spite of that, Farhadi proves that he is a master storyteller as his latest is purely a cinema about human relationships which is not confined by any religion, country or culture and has a much more universal appeal than any of his previous works. Every character in this film is haunted by something regrettable they did in the past which is brought on the screen in a calculated manner so that viewers reevaluate their thoughts before making a final judgment. Also, if you look closely, you will simply find that the conflict isn’t really between right & wrong but two rights and that there isn’t any wrong character in the film but decent people marred by difficult circumstances. And that’s the real beauty of this film or Farhadi’s films in general.
The only downfall The Past has, in my opinion, is something it can’t do anything about; its inevitable comparison to A Separation. A comparison not in the sense of its story or apparently similar themes but rather as an expectation from the admirers of the director, who were or could be anticipating another flawless work like his 2011 masterpiece. And even though The Past succeeds in living up to its predictions to a substantial extent, comparing it with A Separation won’t do real justice as this film is great in its own way, in spite of its minor flaws. Yes, the numerous twists do seem to pile up & can become slightly exhausting after a certain point and the film feels longer than its 130 minutes of runtime due to its glacial pacing but there is also no denying that it’s neat enough to be called a work of art. Overall, with its assured direction, original script, talented cast & outstanding performances, The Past is a spellbinding masterwork from a genius filmmaker at the very top of his game & is one of world cinema’s finest films of the year, if not the finest. One hundred percent recommended.