All I knew heading into this film was that it would be in French. That is always a draw card for me, as I love the mellifluous sound of the language washing over me while I read the subtitles. Suffice to say the fact that it was in French was the least of the film’s coups. ‘The Past’ drew me in and immersed me so completely that I was not ready to leave when it ended. I wanted more.
Although both in French and set in France, the film was written and directed by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, and was nominated as an Iranian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Globe Awards. Because of this I was expecting it to be more focused on Iranian culture, but in fact the family and issues involved were universal, focusing on that old plot favourite – love and relationships.
Ahmad arrives back in France after four years in Iran to sign divorce papers for his estranged wife Marie. The fact that she is now living with another man (Samir) and that man’s young son (Fouad) is sprung upon Ahmad when he turns up to stay at Marie’s house. Obviously stressed, Marie leans on her ex heavily, requesting his help to discover what is upsetting her teenage daughter Lucie, with whom Ahmed had a close relationship before the marriage break up.
You can’t help but like Ahmad, as he accepts each situation and new revelation in such a calm and reasonable manner. Arriving back at his old home, he slots in like he had never left, helping Fouad and his younger stepdaughter Léa fix a bike, cooking meals and generally trying to solve everyone’s problems in an unobtrusive way. He somehow manages all this while trying to deal with the fact that there is a new man in the house. There are the inevitable conflicts when the new fiancé, Samir, tries to establish who exactly is top dog. One of the scenes between Samir and Ahmad was filled with such awkward tension that I could barely look at the screen.
The film is cleverly written, in that the story is slowly revealed to us, almost as if we are Ahmad, trying to make sense out of what exactly is going on with his ex-wife and stepdaughters, and learning about the new man in Marie’s life. What initially seem to be a few routine domestic problems soon evolve into something a whole lot darker. Twists and turns abound, so many that the film resembles more of a whodunit than a family drama.
Drama and heartache feature as we are drawn intimately into the lives of these characters, and what has happened to create the situation in which they now find themselves. The acting is superb, especially from Bérénice Bejo (Marie), who won the Best Actress Award for this role at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The children, Lucie, Fouad and younger stepdaughter Léa are powerfully portrayed, and Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) radiates a down to earth compassion from his puppy dog eyes. If you are looking for a light piece of escapism, this is not the film for you. But if you want to be a fly on the wall in a brilliantly written and acted emotive family drama, go see this film.
Rating: M Offensive language.
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