Family tensions abound; relationships, both strained and strengthened. After making international audiences sit up and take notice with 2011’s A Separation–which won the Oscar for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ in 2012, amongst a raft of other awards–Iranian maestro Asghar Farhadi turns his cinematic gaze upon the suburbs of Paris with incisive new relationship drama The Past. There are relatively few filmmakers who achieve this level of formal excellence, and even fewer who also strike a compelling balance between thematic depth and narrative accessibility. Farhadi has quickly forged his place amongst this select group and The Past is another excellent example of his consummate talent and developing cinematic style.
The film begins at a Paris airport. A woman, Marie (a finely calibrated performance from Bérénice Bejo), waits on the far side of a soundproof glass barrier for a disembarking passenger, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa). As Marie locates and signals to Ahmad, Farhadi sets up a repeating motif of blocked communication as the pair both fruitlessly talk then struggle to gesticulate their intentions across the barrier. And so the film continues as detail upon detail and character after character is rolled out and we are left to discover and unravel the complex web of relational connections and communication problems that has led to this point. A strength of this film, as in all his previous works, is the finding of drama in the realities of life; the minutiae of the everyday. These films have easy touchstones for many viewers to connect with their own experience even if some of the culturally driven decisions might seem odd and some of the responses are not representative of how we might process a situation. Importantly the characters, settings, and situations in The Past have the rich, uneven texture of truth in them which makes the viewing experience vital and compelling.
Farhadi’s mastery of composition and frame is getting more apparent as his filmography grows. In The Past the director illustrates how even the plainest domestic settings can be visually alive: at turns spare or sumptuous. The Iranian filmmaker also continues to prove his ability as an actor’s director, drawing moving, subtly credible performances from a diverse cast including a couple of standout kids who are required to give quite moody yet inflected performances. Also nice to see Tahar Rahim (of a A Prophet fame) well employed again as another significant character Samir. That almost the entire film is not in the filmmaker’s first language underscores this directorial feat. And if Farhadi has been accused of over-utilising histrionics as a narrative tool, in this latest he’s shifted down a gear, allowing characters to be more measured whilst not stripping them of their natural human response to situations. Be it frustrated anger at the accidental spilling of paint inside or helpless sadness at the difficult questions of a child. This change could be in part a cultural factor, The Past being set in France rather than Farhadi’s native Iran, but I suspect the director is tweaking his settings rather than making major adjustments to his modus operandi. If The Past doesn’t have quite the raw magnetism of A Separation or Fireworks Wednesday it is undeniably top notch drama from a filmmaker who is making beautifully challenging pictures leaps and bounds ahead of most in his field.
Rating: M Adult themes.