Asghar Farhadi understands the drama of domesticity, the details – large and small – that eat away at a relationship.
The writer/director’s films, from his feature debut Dancing in the Dust and its debt-driven story, to About Elly’s vacation tension, to Academy Award-winner A Separation’s divorcing dilemma, ponder the simple acts that send repercussions like ripples through the fabric of a pairing, a group, or a family. In The Past (Le passé), he returns to narratively, thematically similar but still resoundingly complex territory.
As in his Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar recipient, it is the end of a marriage that troubles Farhadi’s latest protagonists, with three parties caught in the fallout. After four years away, Tehran-based Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa, The Last Step) returns to Paris upon the request of his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo, The Artist), in order to finalise their parting of ways; her new live-in love, drycleaner Samir (Tahar Rahim, Our Children), provides the motivation for the formalities. The amicable but anxiety-ridden proceedings are complicated by the children (Dead Man Talking’s Pauline Burlet, newcomer Elyes Aguis and Domestic Life’s Jeanne Jestin) caught in-between, a volatile work situation, and the very basis for and genesis of Marie and Samir’s coupling.
The familiar lingers over Farhadi’s effort, but in all the ways that move and matter; here, the director uses his exquisite ability to extract the essence of relationship conflicts not to adhere to formula, but to enhance his authentic, honest analysis of fraying and fractured bonds. Structurally, parallels remain, with the film again concerned about a tale told and re-told until the truth emerges; however, any resemblance to previous material dare not trouble the audience. The minutiae of The Past – and there’s much of it, as conversations circle and feelings become known – absorbs beyond recollections of like-minded content.
It is far from surprising that exemplary, astute turns from the three leads are instrumental in the film’s effectiveness, Bejo’s Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award win well deserved, but perhaps diverting the spotlight from her male co-stars. With Farhadi and Massoumeh Lahidji’s (Certified Copy) intricate characters underfoot, the trio test the limits not of their performances but of restraint and nuance. As emotions simmer and the titular time period boils over to influence the present, each of the main actors demonstrate the composure that only comes when trying to summon the resolve to thwart pain, discontent and challenge.
Again and again, it is the details that matter: the changes in phrasing that uncover a new side to an argument, the flighty behaviour of the watching offspring imbued with more knowledge than they’re letting be known, the chic but crumbling surroundings that house the faltering, festering unions. Nothing is said, but everything is revealed – in looks, in silence, in carefully-placed camera angles – as is Farhadi’s way. The Past is the filmmaker at his most precise and powerful, crafting a relationship procedural of subtlety and assurance. The Past is anything but Farhadi looking backwards; his protagonists may be hampered by their earlier deeds, but in dissecting their machinations their creator thrusts his masterful career forward.
The Past (Le passé)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
France / Italy, 2013, 130 mins
Brisbane International Film Festival
November 13 – 24