Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi made a global splash with the film A Separation, which won the Oscar for a foreign-language film in 2012. But that movie’s title could easily apply to his latest work, The Past, in which all the characters are separated from each other by a wall of misunderstanding and miscommunication. While not as powerful as the previous film, The Past nevertheless is a fascinating, slow-burn depiction of a relationship in crisis.
Bérénice Bejo ( The Artist) is Marie Brisson, a French pharmacist who has summoned her estranged Iranian husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), back to France so they can finally put the legal finishing touches on their divorce. She’s now involved with Samir (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet) and wants to rid herself of old emotional baggage.
Making things sticky are her two children from prior relationships — the rebellious teenage Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and amiable prepubescent Lea (Jeanne Jestin) — and Samir’s young son, the difficult and hard-to-manage Fouad (Elyes Aguis). While Ahmad was under the impression that Marie was going to book him into a hotel, she informs him at the airport that he’s staying with her, an idea of which he’s not too fond — even if he is still in love with her. Needless to say, what Marie thought would be a simple goodbye to her prior life ends up being a complicated beginning to something else.
There’s a scene not long after Ahmad and Samir have first met where they’re sitting at the kitchen table saying nothing, letting the suffocating silence signal their unease. That’s Farhadi at his best, painting in small brushstrokes of character development that ultimately lead to surprising plot twists.
Bejo displays a strong presence as a single mom trying to find her path, though it’s Mosaffa, with his sad eyes and dispirited manner, who elicits much of the viewer sympathy.
While this film lacks the pointed political edge present in the director’s Iranian-set work, The Past offers a glimpse into the world of immigrants in France. Here’s hoping that wherever Farhadi films his next movie, this Past is prologue and he continues to tell intricate, personal stories that transcend borders.
In French and Farsi with English subtitles.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; opens Feb. 14 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth