The Past, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to A Separation, proves every bit as arresting as that Oscar winning film. Both share a certain DNA – though this one is set in France – because both stories begin with a couple on the verge of divorce.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in Paris to complete divorce proceedings with his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), but begins to notice all is not well with her teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Lucie seems unsettled at the presence of Marie’s new boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim), and not simply because he is marrying her mother. In addition, Ahmad observes how her younger daughter Lea and Samir’s young son Fouad are also unsettled by Samir, and he begins to suspect more may be going on than is immediately apparent. A series of discreet investigations uncover secrets within secrets that become increasingly devastating for all concerned.
This stark, brilliantly scripted and directed piece features terrific performances, especially from Bejo, who here is light years from her comic, romantic turn in The Artist. Rahim is also excellent in the supporting role of the teasingly ambiguous Samir. In fact he’s almost as good as he was in A Prophet. The child actors (Elyes Aguis and Jeanne Jestin) are great too.
Unlike A Separation, which offered a fascinating insight into the Iranian legal system, The Past is less concerned with the mechanics of civil law and more with lies and their consequences. There is nothing false or sentimental in the narrative, and no attempt to soften harsh realities. However the film is subtle and observational rather than judgemental, and further proof that Farhadi is a director to watch.