Sunday, 22 June 2014

Review: The Past

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa

Synopsis is here:

To say I have a problem with mainstream cinema’s addiction to broad moral arrangements would be incorrect. As budgets grow higher and international audiences become even more important to Hollywood, it’s understandable to see films appear to be more uncomplicated in their principles. I’ve mentioned on this blog, at least in one entry, how much I enjoyed some Blockbusters more simple outlooks towards its subjects.

However a film fan cannot live on It’s when films slip into more difficult territory, that I find myself more engaged. I love an entertaining diversion, but they just don’t stain the memory as much as The Past. Through such an alarmingly simple set-up, an ex coming back sign his divorce papers, this absorbing drama has a vivid poignancy which lesser films can only ever hope for. Like Asghar Farhadi’s previous film; A Separation,  The Past boasts wonderful uses of form, which only enhance the inner conflicts of the characters we observe.

You sense the film's intent from its opening moments. When we first meet Ahmad (Mosaffa), he is leaving the Airport to meet his pick up and soon to be ex wife Marie (Bejo). They notice each other but are separated by the glass window of the airport. They try to talk to each other yet they cannot hear what the other is saying. It’s a small moment that foreshadows one of The Past's main themes, the difficulty of communication. As the film continues, we observe how each character's willingness/unwillingness to communicate draws divisions between each other. As in A Separation, the games of the adults cause considerable wedges between the children, while their impulsive behaviors, keep the tensions of the elders on a knife edge.

The Past works because it’s human characters are so beautifully drawn. Bejo’s Marie is not a two dimensional shrew, but a conflicted woman whose lack of brevity, forces  the man in her life into near impossible positions. Ahmad caring qualities shine with both Marie’s and Samir’s children, yet it’s clear that his desire for a clean resolution to the situation obscures the reality. Samir (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) is not a dim cypher that one could easily see an American film portray him as, but a deeply torn young struck by both his past and present loves. These people are drenched in differing moral shades. Bad things happen, yet not for the simple reasoning that these people are evil, but desperate, drained and damaged.

Farhadi wraps these characters up within a Paris that feels miles away from the one we recognize in other movies.  There are no landmarks to speak of and why should there be? This is a Paris which has been "lived in". That is the romantic, idealistic view of the city. Whatever sights there could have been, are long forgotten now. All that exists now for these characters, is how they wish to deal with their past to cope with their present, yet they are constantly reminded. At one point Ahmad notices that the house he once lived in with Marie is being repainted. It’s not just the walls being painted over, but memories too.

This is Farhadi’s first film outside of Iran, but his ability to deliver rich drama has not been lost in translation. Every performance is weighted, every moment is measured and every emotion is balanced. For me the film works not just because of its densely packed compositions, but because when we add up all I see from these people and how this small segment of the relationship plays out, the film is still compelling enough to make me think twice and reconsider each person's position. Something these characters must do in every moment we are with them.