Friday, December 27, 2013
The Past (Le Passé)
After four years of separation with his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) who lives in Paris, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is ready to close the chapter and move on. He travels from Tehran to Paris to finalize their divorce. Upon his arrival, it becomes immediately evident that the tangled yarn between them is not unraveled yet. After Ahmad learns that Marie has a living-in boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim), he feels even more awkward sleeping under the same roof with both of them. Despite the fact that Samir is still married to a wife who has been in a coma for the past nine months, Marie plans to marry Samir after her divorce with Ahmad.
The messy situation is not the only headache they have to deal with. Three children are also reluctantly involved: a rebellious sixteen-year-old Lucie (Pauline Burlet) who is very close to Ahmad, a sweet little girl Léa (Jeanne Jestin), and an observant, peevish, scene-stealing boy Fouad (Elyes Aguis).
Almost in an unnecessarily teasing way, the film slowly reveals how these children are related to the adults—Lucie and Lea are both from Marie's previous marriage before Ahmad, and Fouad is Samir's son. The film then fascinatingly depicts how these adults deal with their affairs, and how these children are profoundly affected. The melodrama builds up and eventually spirals into a surprising climax.
Director Asghar Farhadi is terrific in developing his characters. Like a skilled psychologist, he takes his time to listen to these characters and then he shows how their past led to the consequences. In his storytelling, he tackles a crucial element in any relationship: communication. When communications break down and a misconception fills the mind, we all know what is going to happen next.
He slowly paces out and takes his time to enrich these characters. But toward the end of the film, the pace suddenly changes. The storyline becomes overloaded with dramatic turns. As feeling obligated at the end of a few psychotherapy sessions, he tries to provide an answer to every action.
This isn't a film about happy people. In fact, all characters seem to be under duress and consumed by their past. They either regret or try to forget about their unpleasant past. No matter what the outcome might be, the process can be difficult and heartbreaking.
These unhappy characters are superbly performed by a group of talented actors. Besides Bérénice Bejo's impressive performance that won her the Best Actress Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Elyes Aguis stands out and is absolutely mesmerizing playing the innocent and physiologically traumatized little boy Fouad.
Although the film is set in Paris, it could have been easily moved from France to Iran, if you take out the part of the plot that Marie lives with Samir when both of them are still married, because the film's story is remarkably universal. Nobody says getting over with the past is easy.