With ‘A Separation’, Iranian film maker Asghar Farhadi officially made his name on the international stage with a compelling, intricate family drama that provided many an insight in to the ordinary lives of those in Iran. ‘The Past’ sets out to explore similar themes albeit in the new setting of France, and is every bit as clever, touching and riveting as ‘A Separation’ was.
The film stars Bérénice Bejo, famous for her turn in ‘The Artist’, who once again shows just how good she is with an incredibly nuanced performance as Marie, a woman conflicted between her kids, her new partner and her old one. Indeed, it’s the intensity of her performance, and the performances of those around her that carry the film, giving the dialogue a biting edge that means it’s consistently gripping, every interaction having its own powerful quality. Particular highlights are the performances of Ali Mosaffa and a wonderfully believable performance from Pauline Burlet as Marie’s eldest daughter Lucie, who is conflicted and struggling to come to terms with her position as a teenager who wants to deal with the situation but still clings to a variety of unobtainable familial hopes and can’t control her anger, the justification for which she so believably attempts to find.
Farhadi’s script is airtight, and there isn’t a line that goes to waste. Even when it comes to discussing directions or simply waiting for their daughter to leave school at the end of the day, everything feels important and it carries a reality to it that means even things that could be seen as mundane carry an added weight. His direction is equally astute, every frame used to perfection either to generate tension, establish a scene or simply to focus on the emotion that a particular character is feeling, engrossing us further in to the drama. It’s just as flawless as his work on ‘A Separation’, and the roots in Iranian New Wave are definitely there to be seen, the lingering atmospheric shots a definite nod to other Iranian giants like Abbas Kiarostami.
Ultimately ‘The Past’ is a marker of just how effective and affecting a personal drama like this can be, and how a film doesn’t have to be packed full of explosions to be consistently involving and even leave you on the edge of your seat. Farhadi’s prowess in these areas is unchallenged, and he is definitely a director to look out for in future. It’s rare that a director can make a character so fleshed out and yet hide enough from the audience to still leave an air of mystery clinging to the screen, but he manages it and thus ensures that this is definitely one of the best films of the year so far.
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