dir. Asghar Farhadi
The Past (Le PassĂŠ)
Words By Avalon Lyndon
Asghar Farhadi’s The Past could scarcely have come more highly anticipated. His Frenchlanguage debut, starring her-offThe-Artist Bérénice Bejo and him-off-A-Prophet Tahar Rahim, follows in the footsteps of his international hit A Separation, which picked up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. On the surface, Farhadi’s sixth feature seems like a fairly
by-numbers family drama. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa, real-life husband of A Separation’s Leila Hatami) returns to the home he used to share with Marie-Anne (Bejo) to finalise their divorce, only to find himself sucked into the day-to-day crises of the family life he left behind. Marie-Anne’s husband-to-be Samir (Rahim) has come with baggage (namely, a wife in a coma and an understandably surly little boy). Meanwhile, Marie-Anne’s teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) has taken a dislike to Samir, and it’s anyone’s guess why. Scratching the surface, Ahmad uncovers a
secret that could destroy the new life Marie-Anne and Samir are building together. The Past cements Farhadi’s reputation as a master of the unspoken truth. Tiny details reveal whole histories in the blink of an eye. There’s a tense kitchen scene, for example, as Ahmad and Marie-Anne get ready to leave for the divorce courts. Samir watches on, grappling
with the leaking sink that he and Ahmad have been fighting over in a kind of futile DIY man-off. Marie-Anne asks Ahmad, “Have you eaten anything yet?” Samir, oblivious, answers her question, presuming it must be directed at him. Ahmad and Marie-Anne share a glance. It’s the kind of small giveaway phrase that shows she still cares about him. The Past uses a well-trodden
story of jealousy and one-upmanship between exes as a smokescreen for the filmâ€™s true narrative, which twists and turns with disorientating momentum, each revelation casting the last in a new light. As the title would suggest, this is a film where the past holds all the cards, and the ways in which it can be misremembered and misrepresented can have devastating
effects. Interestingly, Farhadi doesnâ€™t fall back on flashbacks, leaving it to his audience to decide what to believe, and who to trust. Farhadi puts a lot of thought into the filmâ€™s imagery. The house where most of the film takes place, for example, is being redecorated, the life Marie-Anne and Ahmad once shared buried under layers of paint and piles of rubble.
Meanwhile, glass windows, with their illusion of closeness, reflect the subtle disconnect between Farhadi’s characters. The opening scene, a conversation in the airport between Marie-Anne and Ahmad, takes place on either side of a soundproof glass wall. As they sit down together in the car, seeing each other for the first time in four years, its windows are misted over with condensation. There’s a feeling somewhere between comfort and claustrophobia. The scene ends as Ahmad reaches out to wipe the screen and clear his vision. “When two people meet four years later and start fighting again,” Samir says to Ahmad, “it means things are still unresolved.” But hidden truths aren’t only revealed by harsh words and raised voices. In Farhadi’s world, something as seemingly insignificant as a choice of aftershave can speak volumes, while a silent tear in the film’s closing scene can say more than words ever could.
Published on Apr 1, 2014