The Past (Le passé)

Berenice Bejo awaits the arrival of her ex.

Berenice Bejo awaits the arrival of her ex.

(2013) Drama (Sony Classics) Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Buret, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Sabrina Ouazani, Babak Karimi, Valeria Cavalli, Aleksandra Klebanska, Jean-Michel Simonet, Pierre Guerder, Anne-Marion de Cayeux, Eleonora Marino, Jonathan Devred, Sylviane Fraval, Yvonne Gradelet. Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Any relationship but particularly a marriage is built on trust. Without it, the relationship withers and dies much as a rose in a glass vase without any water. That trust, once broken, can turn back savagely on the offending party without warning. The things we do in life don’t occur in a vacuum – they affect those around us in addition to ourselves.

Marie (Bejo) waits in de Gaulle airport in Paris for her ex-husband Ahmad (Mosaffa) to arrive from Teheran. Four years previously, he had walked out on her, leaving her with two daughters from an earlier relationship. Now, at last, he’s going to sign their divorce papers leaving her free to marry her current boyfriend.

That boyfriend, Samir (Rahim), comes with baggage of his own. He has a young son Fouad (Aguis) who is working out his own issues and a wife, Celine (Klebanska) who has been in a coma for eight months. Marie insists Ahmad stay with her and the three kids (Samir will stay in his old apartment above his dry cleaning business) and hopefully, have a heart-to-heart with her older daughter Lucie (Burlet) who has been at odds with her essentially since Samir came into her life. She hates Samir with a venom that only a teenage girl watching her mother remarry can possess.

It turns out that the adult Lucie is closest to in the entire world is Ahmad and it’s no wonder; Ahmad is gentle, kindly and compassionate. At first glance it’s hard to reconcile this man with one who would give up on a woman and her two daughters and walk away, but that’s exactly what he did. Clearly there’s more than meets the eye going on here.

Ahmad finds himself in a household that is far more fragile than it appears and it will only take the slightest of touches to knock the whole thing down and of course his presence is the catalyst for that to happen. He tries to reconnect with his family and friends from the Parisian Iranian community but finds himself being sucked into the fall-out of the war between Marie and Lucie. As it turns out, the events that occurred eight months previously have left a pall hanging over the house and those who live in it, one that will have devastating consequences for all of them.

This isn’t always a movie that’s easy to watch. Farhadi excels at portraying people in everyday situations that are turned on their ear by extraordinary mistakes – the sort we are all capable of making in a moment of pique or in a fit of anger. Wisely, Farhadi utilizes very basic storytelling techniques – there are no flashbacks, no flash forwards and curiously, no music on the soundtrack. What you see and hear is unembellished by trickery or point of view – this is the events as they happen as they are perceived by those they happen to.

Bejo, an Oscar nominee for The Artist, is sensational here. Marie is hanging on by her fingernails and although she isn’t a particularly nice person most of the time – she is manipulative and has an explosive temper – she is capable of great tenderness when the mood takes her. Bejo makes Marie complex and in many ways, unknowable but not nearly to the same degree as Ahmad. Ahmad is quite the enigma, rarely betraying his feelings (other than acute annoyance or distinct joy) and we know as much about him when the movie ends as we do when it began. That’s not an easy role to carry, but Mosaffa makes him likable enough that we maintain our identification with him.

The movie at 130 minutes is probably a good half hour too long. The younger daughter is extraneous to the story as is to a great degree Fouad, although he serves as something of a canary in a coalmine letting us know that All Is Not Well In This House. The performances here are raw and at times breath-taking, even from the juveniles.

It’s not the kind of movie that hits you over the head with grand revelations but instead kicks you in the shin with insights that will cause some reflection and eventually take your breath away once you’ve given it some thought. While I can’t really recommend this to everybody – some of it is really intense and for those who have been in a relationship issue similar to the one here it might bring back some really unpleasant feelings. However, this is a solid, well-made film on a subject that is often treated with more titillation than with any consideration to the real life consequences that those kinds of choices often leave behind for those caught in the crossfire.

REASONS TO GO: Intense and gripping. Captures the effects of infidelity on the lives of those not directly involved.

REASONS TO STAY: Runs a bit too long. Youngest daughter was superfluous.  

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes here are pretty mature and at times can be fairly intense. There is also some brief foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farhadi doesn’t speak French and directed the movie through a translator.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Separation

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Loosies

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