CLOSE

The Past

The-PastDirected by Asghar Farhadi
Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa

From Oscar award wining director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), The Past is a multi-layered examination of the motives of a dysfunctional family.

After four years of separation Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris to finalise his divorce to Marie (Berenice Bejo). He finds a family much changed by time. Not only is his ex-wife living with another man (Samir, played by Tahar Rahim), but their children are in a state of crisis, especially the oldest daughter, Lucie. As Ahmad attempts to calm the situation, events spiral out of control as family secrets are revealed and the past comes back to haunt them.

Farhadi (as both writer and director) presents us with meticulously conceived characters, all haunted by their own ghosts of the past that are effecting their motivations in the present. Ahmad as an outsider acts as both catalyst for change and an investigator, as this film slowly peels back the layers of motivation and guilt held by each character, each revelation building and leading to the next. At times this seems almost as much a detective story as family drama, but it is thoroughly grounded in the real world, and the emotional impact is visceral.

The Past is a film that constantly reminds you that it is not traditional Hollywood stock. Structurally it is quite different and at times jarring in its shifting focus on characters, first primarily concentrating on Ahmad and moving to Samir in the later quarter of the film as revelations expose more of his past. Shot in the streets and suburbs of Paris, it is content to present a believable sense of place without resorting to tourist landmarks to do it. Nothing is particularly avant garde here, but it does demonstrate a nuanced approach, allowing for some surprises and a certain ambiguity to the final scene that is haunting.

Ali Mosaffa’s Ahmad is a wonderful creation, being able to be a calm and gentle character without being prone to stasis, the character always seems to be actively doing something but at the same time almost zen like in his purpose. By contrast Marie (Berenice Bejo) seems prone to passion, caught between two men and three children, she is often exasperated by the complications in her life. Rahim in playing Samir manages to make the character almost enigmatic in the first half of the film and it is only later that we are able to read and understand him. However it is the children that give some of the most riveting performance, the young Fouad (Elyes Aguis) with his baleful glare, or the sullen Lucie (Pauline Burlet) with her burdensome secret.
A compelling and intricate family drama, The Past takes time to slowly peel away the various layers to finally expose the truth.

DAVID O’CONNELL

The Past screens as part of the Lotterywest Festival Films season at Somerville from January 22 – February 2 and Joondalup Pines from February 4 – 9. For more details, head to perthfestival.com.au.