The Past is a film about people clinging to memories, to their relationships, even after theyve turned sour, expired, exploded in misery and miscommunication.
By STEVEN REA
A thickly knotted and compelling tale, set in an unglamorous, working-class Paris, it churns with complex emotions, suspense, guilt and regret.
And until it devolves into a kind of moral whodunit with a soap opera scenario involving an errant email its absolutely riveting.
At the center of The Past is Marie (Berenice Bejo), a pharmacist who lives with her boyfriend, Samir (A Prophets Tahar Rahim), and three children a young boy and girl, and a sulky teen, Lucie (Pauline Burlet).
Flying in from Iran is Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), Maries husband. He has lived there for years, and hes been summoned to finalize their divorce. Marie greets Ahmad at the airport through a glass partition, and clearly they are glad to see each other. She has neglected to book a hotel, and so Ahmad comes back and stays with Marie, and with Samir, and with the children. Lucie, the eldest, though not Ahmads daughter (nor Samirs), is close with Ahmad she, too, is glad to see him again.
Already, things are messy.
And then there is Samirs wife yes, Samirs wife in a coma at the hospital, an attempted suicide. Samir must decide whether to pull the plug.
Maybe this all sounds too much. But in the steady hands of director Asghar Farhadi (the Oscar-winning A Separation), and with four raw and deeply rooted performances, The Past pulls you in like an undertow. Bejo, the silent-screen chorus-girl-turned-star of the Oscar hit The Artist, is revelatory as a woman torn between two men, between possibilities. You can feel her quaking with longing, a longing that manifests in a kind of passive-aggressive recklessness.
Mosaffas Ahmad is a man full of intelligence and reticence, forced into an unfamiliar position that of truth-seeker, trying to understand the women in his life (Marie, Lucie). The sorrowful, simmering rage exhibited by Rahims Samir is understandable given all he is confronted with.
And young Lucie, played with fearlessness by Burlet (she was the 10-year-old street urchin Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose), is carrying a burden almost impossible to bear.
As for that electronic paper trail and all the forensic to-and-fro that happens in the films final act in a sense, its an old literary device, like the lost or misdelivered letter of a Victorian novel: a twist of fate, or coincidence, that affects lives in the worst possible way.
What is amazing about The Past, even if it fails to match the resonance of A Separation, is how Farhadis film so fully investigates these lives, full of conflict, confusion, sadness, and secrets.
(At the Glenwood at Red Bridge, Tivoli, Studio 30.)