DVD Review - The Past (Le Passé)

Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his movie A Separation (2011). It marked the first win for the country of Iran. It was believed that this film, Farhadi's follow-up to his Oscar win, would also be submitted to the Academy from Iran, but it wasn't, and I think I see why. It's simply not an Iranian film. Yes, it's written and directed by Farhadi who is Iranian, and, yes, some of the actors and crew are Iranian, but, unlike A Separation, this film is not set in Iran. It's set in France, and it's more about French life and culture than it is about Iranian culture. This film, like A Separation, is about a couple going through a divorce, but A Separation ends up being a kind of exposé of the legal process in Iran. The Past offers no such insight.

The Past won the NBR Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was nominated as such at the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards. It also was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize, as well as Best Actress for Bérénice Bejo. It was finally up for five César Awards, including Best Director, Best Film and Best Actress again for Bejo.

Oscar-nominee Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) stars as Marie-Anne, a French woman with two children, a teenage daughter named Lucie and a younger daughter named Léa. She's a single mom who lives in a small but fairly nice house in France. She works at a pharmacy in the downtown section of the city where they live. It's not Paris, but some French city. She has a boyfriend named Samir, played by Tahar Rahim (A Prophet and The Eagle) who's a single father and runs a dry cleaners across the street from her pharmacy.

The reason Samir is single is because his wife Céline tried to commit suicide and failed. She instead winded up in a coma. Her reason for committing suicide is the mystery and source of debate for this story. The story is that Marie is pregnant with Samir's next child, so Marie and Samir decide to get engaged and eventually marry, but they can't because both are still married to other people. Samir is still married to Céline in a coma and Marie is still married to a man who currently lives in Tehran.

The opening of the film is Marie's husband Ahmad, played by Ali Mosaffa, arriving in France to sign papers to finalize their divorce. I don't understand why he couldn't do it by mail, but so be it. I assumed his coming to France is because Ahmad is the father of Lucie, Marie's eldest daughter, but that fact is not made clear. If he's not, then Lucie's confidence in Ahmad needed explanation.

The character of Lucie, played by Pauline Burlet, is the worst. She exists to add conflict between Marie and Samir, opposing their relationship, but Lucie's assumptions seem too stupid for someone her age to make or even to have. The best parts is actually with Samir's prepubescent son Fouad, played by Elyes Aguis. His behavior and defiance become tantrums that Marie often has trouble handling. Sitting Fouad down or backing him against a wall and disciplining him are great moments that are all well-acted by all the actors.

Somehow, Lucie's resistance to Marie and Samir's marriage should have been transferred to Fouad. Lucie, as a character, should have been removed all together. Speaking of which, the character of Ahmad should have been removed. His presence here adds some drama, but not enough to justify the movie's length.

Farhadi directs this film with the same immediacy and intimacy as A Separation, but he's written it in a way that doesn't play at the same level in terms of stakes and danger. There's also a hollowness between the characters, perhaps an intentional distance, which results in no characters ever kissing each other or ever really touching each other.

The exception is the final shot, which feels even more hollow because it involves Samir touching Céline. It's hollow due to the fact that despite Rahim's great performance, he doesn't sell his love or concern for her. It comes off more as guilt, which is probably what should be the feeling, but it's the only time in the movie that Samir and Céline are in the same room. The other characters spend over a hour talking about her and debating Céline's suicide attempt, but somehow I still feel like I don't know nor care about Céline.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and brief language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.


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