Review: The Past


the past film posterThe Past opens with an airport arrival scene. A woman  -- she seems happy but anxious -- waits for a man, who emerges into view calm and alone. They greet each other familiarly but with an underlying hesitance, and over the next few minutes exchange sparse, direct words as they hurry to the car through a sudden downpour and proceed to their next destination. 

Because minimal background details are offered in these beginning moments (and fed out very conservatively over the rest of the film) the story immediately feels like a puzzle, and the initial basic questions -- who are these people? where are they going? -- soon make way for much more serious mysteries to unfold.

The plot that writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) does eventually reveal is at first somewhat mundane in its modern glumness. Ahmad (played impressively and stoically by Ali Mosaffa) has returned to France from his home country of Iran to settle the details of a divorce. Four years earlier he left his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) and her two daughters, whom he had helped to raise. 

The marriage didn't end too dramatically and everyone is civil enough, but whispers of unfinished business and repressed feelings fuss just below the surface of every interaction. Closure, if such a thing is possible, has certainly not been achieved, and everyone accepts this transitional and often awkward reality as simply the way things are. 

Realistic in its complicated portrayals of domesticity and relationships and deliberately paced, it's a surprise when the "normal" problems introduced at the beginning of The Past advance to more salacious matters involving jealousy, adultery, email spying and suicide. Without giving away too much, Marie's angsty teenage daughter plays a pivotal role, as does Marie's new lover and his troubled young son.

The Past requires room to breathe and time to find its way towards the larger truth ultimately at the heart of the story, and though it's a demanding experience it's not an unrewarding one. Consistently solid acting (even the young children strike all the right heartbreaking notes) and a narrative that explores the tough and gritty aspects of human tragedy make this a fine, haunting film.

Events of the past are never really over because their repercussions shape the present and shadow our memories. This is true for the characters of The Past, and because we all experience our own particular mistakes and regrets, it's not impossible to imagine ending up in a reality that, maybe on a different scale, mirrors the one Farhadi has created here. It's a place where ventured apologies are sometimes rejected, but there is something human and healing about offering them up anyway.