Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
Returning to Paris from his homeland of Iran to complete divorce proceedings, Ahmad (Mosaffa) visits his ex-wife Marie (Bejo) and her two daughters for the first time in four years. He arrives to discover that Marie is in a relationship with Samir (Rahim) who she intends to marry and his young son lives with Marie. Marie’s relationship with oldest daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) is becoming increasingly distant as not only does she not want her mother to be in another relationship that will end like that with her father and Ahmad but blames Marie and Samir’s relationship on the fact Samir’s wife attempted suicide and is now in a coma. As Lucie and Ahmad get on well, Marie asks him to talk to Lucie, however this reveals darker secrets that may change all their lives and test their relationships forever.
The Oscar winning A Separation was rightfully regarded by all as an astounding film. Well, how the hell does Asghar Frahadi follow that up? Well, The Past is the answer; another film dealing with the very weak threads that hold together human relationships, and the revelation of secrets that can break them, but this time he relocates to France (apparently making the film through an interpreter). Though maybe not hitting the heights of A Separation (what could?), in my view The Past is one of the best dramas of the year so far.
I was always taught that one of the key rules of screenwriting is to show and not tell, as well as the usual rubbish about character arcs and whatnot. I know for a fact that if I had submitted the screenplay for The Past as my major project in my Screenwriting MA I would have not got a very good mark. Well, as writer and director Frahadi has proved that you do not need to conform to these rules to provide emotional and compelling drama within a narrative film. 130 minutes may seem like a long running time, but in the case of The Past it is truly justified. This is a dialogue heavy film that throws us head first into these characters lives, and we learn about them as they converse with each other through Frahadi’s naturalistic but economically written dialogue. Despite being dialogue heavy and 130 minutes long, The Past is an always engaging and very human drama from start to finish featuring very believable characters.
Just like in A Separation, The Past is never a film that takes sides or asks us to. Every character is as flawed as we all are, but every line of dialogue they say or action they do is justified, making the drama in my view more compelling and involving. We do invest sympathy into all these characters, and as the plot takes over in the film’s final third it is these emotional investments that makes the developments in the plot all the more engaging and at times devastating. Some have criticised these revelations for being too clichéd or soap opera-esque, but I would strongly disagree with that; these are very believable revelations happening to very believable characters. In the grand scheme of things they may not be huge, but they are a big deal to the characters we have emotionally invested into and deeply affect their lives, making in my view the narrative deeply involving from start to finish and I found every revelation as devastating as the fictional characters involved did.
Of course for a drama to be truly engaging it requires great performances, and the entire cast are exceptional. Due to her fame from her brilliant performance in The Artist, Bérénice Bejo will of course be the centre of the film’s posters and marketing, but in what is a very different role gives an exceptional performance. As the two men, Tahar Rahim and Ali Mosaffa also give commanding performances that evoke sympathy. The three children are also pivotal to the developments of the narrative and all three young actors give believable and exceptional performances. All actors deliver with incredible commitment every line of dialogue they say, adding the necessary believability for The Past to work as an engaging character driven drama, and that it does.
My only criticism is that perhaps towards the end it hints at too many questions, providing little attempt at any answers, and perhaps Frahadi struggles a little to end the narrative, but for a film so grounded in reality that does in some way feel appropriate. The Past is a film that deals with the believable issues facing believable characters and is all the more emotionally engaging and devastating for it.
Despite the language barrier, Asghar Frahadi once again makes a deeply engaging and moving drama about the universal language of human emotion. The Past is without a doubt for me one of best dramas of the year so far.