If home is where the heart is, then prepare for some aches.
As with A Separation, the film opens on an estranged couple, Marie and Ahmad (Bérénice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa, respectively). Ahmad has returned to the Paris suburbs at the request of Marie to file for a divorce. While Ahmad is hesitant about making a final call, multiple petty arguments and passive aggressive taunts with Marie hasten his decision. Before returning to Iran with his remaining possessions, Marie asks Ahmad to help find out why her oldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), has completely closed herself off from her family.
Once again, Ahmad begrudgingly agrees, but as he helps Lucie confront her troubles, he finds himself unraveling the twisted secrets that surround them all–the least of which being Marie’s emotionless boyfriend, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and his bothersome son, Foaud (Elyes Aguis). Not a smile is broken over the following days, as the family becomes increasingly unstable and everyone’s certainty is shaken to its core.
Farhadi is a director who can elevate trivial matter beyond the realms of melodrama. He tells stories that appear to be simple tales of familial dysfunction, yet he constructs them in such a way that they feel more akin to mystery thrillers. Just when it seems that the plot can’t become any thicker, Farhadi adds yet on another layer on top, unfolding the film in an incredibly slow and deliberate manner. While The Past may not have as compelling a story as his previous film, there are plenty of intense moments in which it is impossible to turn one’s attention away.
The story is not the biggest concern, though, because at its heart (or lack thereof), the film is a character piece. The slow pace and two-hour-plus length give the actors plenty of time to nurture their roles and develop characters that are both well-rounded and terribly complex. Bejo and Mosaffa deliver Oscar-snubbed performances as the jaded ex-lovers; Bejo’s Marie garners our sympathy as she is forced to contend with both her problematic lovers and children, but she also generates our disgust in her selfish motives. Mosaffa’s Ahmad kindly offers advice to all but is simultaneously impatient and hostile towards others.
Even the supporting roles are fantastic, particularly the breakout child performances from Burlet and Aguis. Burlet brings Lucie’s suffering out of the realm of teenage angst to portray a truly distraught and conflicted young adult, while Aguis shows surprising depth as Foaud, a boy with a solemn outlook on life who’s caught between two feuding families.
With terrific acting and skillful execution of a script that has more thrills than it deserves, The Past further proves that Farhadi is not just a brilliant director, but a master of human drama.
The Past is currently playing at Downer Theatre.