Cannes 2013: Complex Relationships Shine in Farhadi's 'The Past'
by Alex Billington
May 19, 2013
In mid-February of last year I went, by myself, to a screening of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and fell for it completely, a masterpiece. A month later the film went on to win the Oscar, and Farhadi started working on his next feature, which I knew I had to see. Premiering at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival is Asghar Farhadi's The Past, a French film dealing with a series of complex relationships between two families in Paris. It's further proof that Farhadi is an absolute master of human dynamics, relationships and performances that expertly captures the complex, deep layers that exist between all of us in this world.
Farhadi's The Past takes place in Paris and at first introduces us to Marie, played by Bérénice Bejo, and Ahmad, played Ali Mosaffa, her ex-husband who seems to be returning to town to say hello to his kids. But it soon unravels into a very complex relationship debacle, as Marie is now with Samir, played by Tahar Rahim, who works at a small dry cleaning shop. Marie watches over two kids and the entire film focuses on discoveries made between the characters: the humble but watchful ex interacting with her new man, and dealing with a key situation in the past that connects all of them (and a few more people). When it gets down to it, Farhadi is posing the question of: should we forget the past to move on or figure out the truth to atone.
While this film doesn't necessarily reach the levels of perfection that A Separation does, there's no question that Farhadi is a modern master of performances and extremely complex human dynamics. The arguments, dialogue and discussions, even the minor moments of physical interaction in relation to their environment (mostly a rundown home the entirely family is living in) are exceptional. He's able to get performances out of his cast that are undeniably genuine and so real, with Bejo shining the most in the few instances where she finally loses her cool. Those are the scenes that will entrance audiences, and should be watched closely.
My biggest issues, or at least the big question this film opens for discussion in an invigorating way, regards "the past": should we let it go or should we drown ourselves worrying about it until we can overcome our struggles and issues. Personally, I take each and every day as a new day and realize nothing said or done in the past can be changed, which almost goes against the entire concept of the film. It spends a little too much time dwelling on that idea, running over two hours, with many many scenes in the later half focused around one specific incident regarding a stain on a dress taken to a dry cleaners where one of the characters works. It's a very complex and real concept to play with, but spends too much time questioning it up until the end.
Farhadi's big technique, or his "shtick" (at least with his last two films), is to build up to a very key moment at the end. And to leave viewers with one very striking, very moving shot as the final moment. He does that again here and it's just as effective, just as powerful. There's no doubt that Farhadi is one of today's greatest filmmakers when it comes to the complexities of relationships, and the way he handles the characters and actors that embody them is second to none. Even though this isn't his masterpiece, I've still been thinking about it for days. I'm anxious to explore more of Farhadi's past work and I'm already looking forward to the premieres of his next films. Just to revel in the extraordinary depth of his characters and the performances.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 7.5 out of 10