Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Cinematographer: Mahmoud Kalari
Producer: Alexandre Mallet-Guy
by Jon Cvack
The Past has been in my queue for six years now, joining the seventy-five or so other films that have also been pushed down in favor of other choices, slowly assembling throughout the last half decade until, ever so slowly, this film rose to the top. I don’t remember much from Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011) other than that it was one of the most popular foreign films from the period, going on to win Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Academy Awards; that it was more or less an Iranian Art House Melodrama; and that The Past was his next film, released two years later.
The Past abides by the same melodramatic/Art House hybrid structure, in which the story could just as easily be adapted as a play, following a cast of Iranians who live somewhere in France. The middle aged Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to town to get his wife back, Marie Brisson (Bérénice Bejo; who learned French in a manner of months) who’s now in a relationship with the owner of a dry cleaning company, Samir (Tahar Rahim) who has two children, Fouad (Elyes Aguis) and daughter Léa (Jeanne Jestin). Amhad forms a quick and strong bond with the children, seemingly able to provide them with the care and attention that neither Marie nor Samir are capable of. Additionally, there’s Marie’s third child, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) from her second marriage. All three children struggle with their mother’s temperament and inability to maintain a loving relationship.
At the courthouse where Marie and Ahmad plan to sign the divorce papers, Marie confesses that she’s pregnant with Samir’s son and Samir then reveals that he’s still married to his wife who’s in a coma after attempting to commit suicide by drinking bleach; emphasizing that the act was based on depression, as she didn’t yet know of the affair.
Lucie later confesses to Admad that she had actually forwarded the emails between Marie and Samir to Samir’s wife the day before she committed suicide, figuring it wasn’t right. Marie learns of the betrayal and kicks Lucie out of the house, forcing Ahmad to track her down. Later, Marie questions Samir as to whether he still has feelings for his wife. We learn that rather than any emails from Lucie, Samir’s wife attempted suicide after confronting an undocumented immigrant, Naïma (Sabrina Ouazani), working at Samir’s shop, who his wife suspected was having an affair with Samir. Naïma believes Samir's wife couldn’t have read the emails because when she came in, she immediately grabbed and drank the bleach. Samir nevertheless fires Naïma, essentially forcing her to return to Iran.
Ahmad leaves and Marie and Samir attempt to reconcile their relationship. Still, Samir returns to his wife once more, with a box of her perfumes, lifting one to her nose and hoping it’d trigger a reaction to bring her out of coma. From our view, we see a tear fall from her eye as he dips his face into hers.
It’s easy to notice the melodramatic elements and yet its Farhadi’s ability - in collaboration with cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari - to avoid making the film feel generic to the genre. Kalari makes gorgeous images out of a natural environment; capturing all of the colors and details of the set; looking as though out of a National Geographic magazine while Farhadi prevents any of the characters from straying too far from realism.
Still, the plot left me with the feeling that most melodramas do, in that I was left wondering what it all was trying to say. Better than most, Farhadi captured the raw emotion of each character, where given the extraordinary circumstances of the plot - in which a woman commits suicide by drinking bleach at her dry cleaning office, now in an indefinite coma - I couldn’t help but appreciate how every scene felt so real. Yet so little stuck with me; serving the function that most melodramas follow, in providing a scandal laden plot, full of reversals, which are exciting to watch at the time, and yet fade quickly.
BELOW: Some solid melodramatic confrontation
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