I can breathe a sigh of relief, for Asghar Farhadi has produced one of the best films of 2013. In a year plagued with a lack of display for the human condition, 'The Past' is like a beautiful storm that sweeps through and revitalises the genre that we call ‘drama.’ There will no doubt be comparisons made between this film and Farhadi’s acclaimed masterpiece, A Separation. While I wouldn’t call The Past a masterpiece, it’s still one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. Farhadi distinguishes his films from others through the usage of stunning realism, emotional performances, and complicated stories. There’s no shortage of complicated drama in The Past. It takes you on a long, thoughtful, beautiful cinematic experience.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France after leaving his family, for his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) has asked for a divorce. She has built a new life with her partner Samir (Tahar Rahim), whose wife is in a coma. Upon his return, Ahmad faces the reality that Marie has started a new relationship, and finds that their lives are far from joyous. There are many secrets and pent-up emotions in this entrancing story.
It's hard to pick what would be the greatest aspect of the film. There's no 'one' thing that stands out to me, because as a whole, everything compliments each other perfectly. The cinematography makes you feel like you're there, just a fly on the wall watching the drama unfurl. The dialogue is unflinchingly powerful and real, which is elevated by the strength and conviction of the actors delivering the lines. As for the story itself, it's complicated in the way it shows you all sides to the story. From the love that Marie and Samir share, to the resentment that her daughter Lucie has towards Samir, and even to the minor character that works in the laundromat... we get the full picture of these characters lives. That is something not all director's and writers are able to achieve.
What I find most amazing about The Past is that it focuses on a small, yet significant chapter of their lives. It spans maybe two or three days, yet in that short amount of time so much happens. Those few days are the difference between a child being scarred for life, or a relationship being ruined, or a family being completely torn apart. That's why it's such a gripping movie to watch. You really get a sense of who these people are, so you can't help but be utterly transfixed on what may happen to them. Will there be a resolution? That was my main thought throughout the film.
Berenice Bejo should be a strong contender for Best Actress at the Academy Awards this year. Whether she will be nominated, I doubt it. Simply because you don't often see foreign performances being nominated, and this year has a pretty strong field of contenders. She's drop dead gorgeous in this film (even without make-up and perfectly kept hair), but that doesn't matter at all. To me, she WAS Marie. There were many moments throughout the film where her expression alone told a story in itself. At the start of the film, when Ahmad returned, she looked at him with such fondness, as if she remembered how they were when their relationship began. As time went on, she became less patient and more concerned. Her outbursts were spine-chilling, and man she can look ferocious. She couldn't speak in The Artist, but she certainly made up for that with her vocal expression in The Past.
The supporting performances were absolutely outstanding too. I'd like to see Ali Mosaffa get nominated for Best Supporting Actor. His quiet, thoughtful performance was the perfect yin/yang to Bejo's often strong exertions. I also adored the performances of Pauline Burlet and Elyes Aguis, who played the young, damaged, troubled kids of Marie.
The Past is an unforgettable film. From start to finish, it swept me away in an extremely complicated, but rewarding drama. I love films that make you think, and change your outlook on things that would usually seem 'black and white.' This is one of those films, and it's one of the best. Asghar Farhadi is one of the greatest director's alive, and this is one of the decade's best films.
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