The Past (2014)

Esteemed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to his Academy Award Winning A Separation, is a deliberately paced and realised study of family turmoil and the lies we are prepared to swallow and accept as adults.  Working for the first time outside of his homeland, the film’s exploration of the sheer inescapability of family brokenness seems to be a clear allegory for Farhadi’s own inner torment in dealing with the magnitude of the crises back in Iran.

As Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris to finalise his divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) it is clear that every soul here is still tortured by yesterday’s demons. Ignoring Ahmad’s requests for a quick, simple and civil divorce proceeding, Marie solicits her ex to stay with her and help console her defiant and increasingly distant teenage daughter Lea (Jeanne Jestin). For reasons unknown, Marie also neglects to inform Ahmad that her new fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim) and his son Fouad (Elyes Aquis) will also be sharing the residence. What follows is a raw and refreshingly mature approach to unravelling the past and accepting our role in the hurt.

Based on the film’s synopsis, one could not be faulted for viewing the film as a formulaic melodrama, but to do so would sell the film exceedingly short.

Farhadi steers well clear of unwelcome dramatic convention or theatricality. He chooses not to adopt any form of artificial device to force-feed the audience into an undeserved emotional response. The film offers zero voice-overs and no music to tell you how to feel. Instead, the entire films play out with striking even-handed realism and subtlety. Scenes flow naturally into one another, as simple discussions grow steadily into arguments and greater conflict.

That isn’t to say that everything works flawlessly either. Farhadi spends quite a great deal of time slowly establishing his domestic/suburban setting, stretching the narrative far greater than it ought be. The director’s extensive and commendable attention to realistic detail does diminish the film’s pace and fluidity.  It does however create exceptionally well written and crafted characters, and his outstanding cast deliver this difficult and gritty subject matter in spades.

However, my greatest praise for Farhadi comes from what he has achieved with his finale. Staying true to the realism he worked so hard in developing, the film’s final few frames are both simply executed and profoundly moving. I am yet to think of a final shot that has had such a deep and personal affect on me.

Potent, honest and beautiful. This one will stay with me.

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