Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahir Rahim, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Agua. Directed by: Asghar Farhadi (130 minutes)
Reviewed by Randeep Singh
In the opening of The Past, Ahmad (Mosaffa) arrives in Paris from Iran. Waiting for Ahmad at the airport is Marie (Bejo). When she sees him for the first time, it is behind a sound-proof security glass. The two try speaking to one another, but we can’t hear what they saying.
The Past deals with those themes of secrecy, lies, guilt and the misunderstandings that come from failing to hear one another. Ahmad has returned to Paris to sign his and Marie’s divorce papers. While he’s been away, Marie has been in a relationship with Samir (Rahim), a married man whose wife is in a coma. Marie has also taken in Samir’s two children, including the feisty Fuad (Agua). Marie’s own daughter Lucie (Burlet), is fond of Ahmad but less so of Samir.
Scene by scene, we learn how Ahmad’s presence in Marie’s home affects Samir, how Samir and Marie’s relationship affects Lucie and how Fuad reacts to all this going on around him. The effect would be a rather contrived two-hour soap opera had Farhadi not directed a moving drama, whose strength lies in its masterful performances.
In a performance which won her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, Bejo simmers with anxiety and tension as a woman caught between her past and present, exploding at the film’s climax in a confrontation with Lucie in the family kitchen. Mosaffa and Rahim complement Bejo and one another brilliantly; but special mention goes to Burlet as Lucie whose aloofness excites curiosity, frustration and sympathy all at once and to Agua as Fuad, who reveals the poignant fury of a boy trying to make sense of a world where his mother “sleeps.” The scene at the subway station where Fuad asks his father where their real home is, is one of the most affecting in the film.
Like Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, the drama in The Past unfolds as a mundane affair at the breakfast table, in the talks in the car and in the walks down the street. In one scene, Ahmad sits at a café with Lucie who has been distant and troubled, having kept a secret from her mother. Ahmad tells her she can either reveal the secret to her mother now and face the consequences, or live with the secret for the rest of her life. The past will always be part of the present, Farhadi suggests, until we learn to resolve it.