The Past (4 stars)

The Past

A quietly gripping domestic drama from Asghar Farhadi, director of A Separation

With this quietly gripping domestic drama, Asghar Farhadi once again demonstrates his ability to turn keen human insight into powerfully compelling cinema. As with previous film A Separation, the Iranian writer/director uses the dissolution of a relationship as his starting point, beginning with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arriving in France from Iran to finalise his divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo).

Although they are parting on good terms – he’s staying at her house to have an opportunity to spend time with the children – the presence of Marie’s new fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim) causes friction. And this only increases when her oldest daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) begins to voice concerns about this new relationship.

Farhadi gradually reveals the various sides of these characters’ stories and, as the somewhat overbearing title implies, their histories. None of the characters are particularly easy to read and the more we discover about what they have done, the more complex they become. Throughout the film characters construct stories in an attempt to explain the meaning of others’ actions, but failing to ever reach a place of real understanding. It’s like encountering real people and the effect is to make us consider afresh the famous assertion from Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game that, ‘everybody has their reasons’.

The film is far from ponderous though. From Ahmad and Marie’s first meeting onwards, scenes drip with a tension that builds as we get a clearer picture of all the story’s elements. The question that this entire film spins on is whether someone can ever cut themselves off from the past. As an answer to that question, the image that Farhadi concludes with is truly unforgettable.

Limited release from Fri 28 Mar.

'The Past' Trailer

The Past

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • France
  • 2h 10min
  • Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
  • Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
  • UK release: 28 March 2014

An Iranian man returns to his homeland and has to confront reality when his wife and two children move on without him.