Past, The: Iran’s Oscar Entry

the_past_poster“The Past” is the noteworthy follow-up to Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation,” which deservedly won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

World-premiering at the 2013 Cannes Film Fest (in competition), “The Past,” a concisely scripted and directed divorce drama was greeted with honorable reception, but I think it suffered from the inevitable comparisons to the superior film “A Separation.”

There are thematic and stylistic similarities as well as differences between the two films.  At the center of both tales there is a couple and a precise dissection of a relationship.  However, one major difference is the change of locale: New tale is set in Paris, not in Tehran.

the_past_4The spouses in “The Past,” Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and Marie (Bérénice Bejo), are about to finalize a split that has been a long time coming. The story begins when Ahmad arrives in Paris to sign the divorce papers.

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But from the start of their temporary reunion there’s  anticipated tension and also unexpected trouble. Marie has not booked a hotel for Ahmad, and she plans to have him stay with her and her three children—two daughters from a different father, and the stepson of her current beau, Samir (Tahar Rahim, who was so good in “Prophet”), a dry-cleaner beset by many problems of his own.  For one thing, his wife is in coma after an attempted suicide.  For another, there are witnesses to a crucial incident that occurred in his business.

the_past_5Scene after scene unfolds with immense attention paid to the subtle shifts of moods, positions, and opinions, and feelings of three central characters, who form an unusual romantic triangle by American standards of the genre.

It’s impossible to describe the narrative specifics of “The Past” due to its continuous unraveling layers of miscommunication, evasions, and personal confessions without revealing too much.  Suffice is to say that throughout Farhard steers clearly admirably from turning his deeply emotional sage into cheap or lurid melodrama.

Farhadi is the kind of artist who can lend even the hoariest-in-conception metaphor—Ahmad and Marie gaze backward through the a car window…into the past!—a cut-to-the-quick grace and profundity. You never feel like you’re in the hands of anyone less than a master storyteller.