FILM REVIEW: The Past (Le Passé)

The Past (Asghar Farhadi, 2013)

Wowzers. Following his Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation (2012), director Asghar Farhadi follows up with The Past (Le Passé). I personally wasn’t awestruck by A Separation – a film that was universally lauded by critics. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. The Past has not received the same praise, and has not been nominated in this year’s Foreign Film category (potentially for trivial reasons), however, this film absolutely blew me away.  For those of you that avoid foreign films, please believe me when I say THEY CAN BE SO GOOD! Any foreign film that gets its own release in Australia (and outside of an international film festival) is most likely the cream of the crop in cinema in its own country, as well as being a film that isn’t reliant on the viewer having specific cultural knowledge. You get used to the subtitles and, if anything, it makes it easier to follow the plot. This one, in particular, was a ripper.

Tahar Rahim, Bérénice Bejo, and Ali Mosaffa
Tahar Rahim, Bérénice Bejo, and Ali Mosaffa

The Past is a French/Iranian film which follows Iranian man Ahmad’s (Ali Mosaffa) return to France to sign off on divorce papers. His ex-partner Marie (Bérénice Bejo) is now engaged to Samir (Tahar Rahim) who along with his five-year old son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) lives with Marie and her two daughters, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and Léa (Jeanne Jestin) from yet another marriage. Lucie is clearly miserable in this situation and Ahmad’s arrival sparks off a chain of further developments. To say much more than this would ruin the twists and turns on offer here. And unfortunately, it makes it difficult to discuss some of the rich themes at play. You could watch the trailer to give you a feel of the film, but it gives very little away (BRAVO!).

RICH is the best word I can use to describe this film. It provides plenty of food for thought, but without ever being convoluted to the point of being confusing. Themes of guilt, blame, truth, parenting responsibilities in blended families, and mental health are explored. As a viewer I found myself questioning who exactly, if anyone, was to blame, and the film provided no clear answer to that. Because such is life. I was somewhat alarmed when I read in a review elsewhere that this film offers no clear resolution, because I hate when movies end and you just go “What? That’s it?” and storm off all pissed off that you wasted your time. But this was not like that at all. I felt perfectly satisfied.

Pauline Burlet
Pauline Burlet

I have never seen any of the actors from this film in anything else, with the exception of Bérénice Bejo from The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011). She was amazing. I’m not sure whether I can therefore comment on the remaining actors but they seemed pretty impressive from where I was sitting. Not to mention the kids. Elyes Aguis as Fouad was simply incredible. That kid definitely needed therapy.

Ali Mosaffa, Elyes Aguis, and Jeanne Jestin
Ali Mosaffa, Elyes Aguis, and Jeanne Jestin

If you want to see a film that will make you think, this is certainly worth your time and money. Hopefully you’ll have some better insight than the old women in my cinema session, whose pearls of wisdom after the film had ended were “I would never have a blended family” and “They didn’t smile much. Maybe if they’d smiled more then things would have been better!” I rolled my eyes at this ignorance and hoped they were just trying to be funny to impress each other. I think most people will get a lot out of this film, which highlights that all humans are essentially flawed but can’t be simply written off as bad people. Check it.

5 stars (I know it’s getting hard to take me seriously when I’ve given three films a 5 star rating within the last 2 weeks BUT IT’S OSCAR SEASON and this is when all the best films are released!)

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