is hard to define Ahmad’s role in the family drama he re-submerges himself
in. As Marie’s soon to be ex-husband, he
is intimately familiar with her and her two daughters from a previous
relationship. Of course, he is a complete
stranger to Samir, her next intended husband, and his young son. That ambiguity
provides rich fodder for Asghar Farhadi’s French language, Iranian Oscar
submission, The Past (trailer here), which opens this
Friday at Film Forum.
the former Iranian expat, has returned to Paris to finalize his divorce with
his French wife, Marie. One might wonder
why he should travel such a long way for a bit of paperwork. Frankly, the same question crosses Ahmad’s
mind as well. Regardless, here he
is. Much to his surprise, he learns he
will be staying with Marie and Samir in their distinctly unfashionable suburban
quickly deduce Ahmad has a history of mental instability, whereas Marie is a
bit of game-player. The now stoic Ahmad tries to take the high road, but he is soon
drawn into his eldest former step-daughter’s cold war with Marie. Lucie is dead set against her mother’s
engagement to Samir, because she believes their love affair drove his comatose
wife to her suicide attempt. As Ahmad
tries to counsel Lucie, he discovers the truth is considerably more complicated
than anyone suspected.
having no formal position in the family, Ahmad becomes the closest thing to a
referee they have. Yet, it is clear the
feelings he and Marie once had for each other remain unresolved. It is fascinating to watch him navigate this
tortuous emotional terrain, acting as an honest broker and peace-maker, while
keenly aware of his own destabilizing influence. Ahmad is a tricky role to pull off, considering
he often serves as an audience proxy as well as an independent actor in his own
right, but Ali Mosaffa pulls it off masterfully. It is an exquisitely humane turn that darkly
suggests volumes of unspoken back-story.
Ahmad is central to the narrative, he is still a supporting player in the overall
scheme of things. This is Marie’s story,
driven by her problematic relationships with Samir and Lucie. The thoroughly de-glamorized Bérénice Bejo’s
lead performance is earthy and passionate, constantly approaching the
overwrought, put always pulling back just in time (because the working class
cannot afford such indulgences). Pauline
Burlet is also quite remarkable, making Lucie’s inner turmoil vivid and
believable in an angsty teen-aged sort of way.
She could be this year’s equivalent of Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.
The opening of The Past essentially closes the year in film. Granted, there are some presumptive Oscar
candidates slated to open Christmas week, but they do not deserve their
buzz. In contrast, The Past should be a contender in multiple categories. It might not have quite the same visceral
intensity of Farhadi’s A Separation and
About Elly, but those films set the
bar awfully high, making comparisons decidedly unfair. The
Past is a gripping film that embraces the messy humanity of its characters.
It is a bracing yet forgiving film, much in keeping with the rest of Farhadi’s filmography. Highly recommended, The Past opens this Friday (12/20) at New York’s Film Forum.
Labels: Asghar Farhadi, Berenice Bejo, Iranian Cinema