The Past

Film, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(3user reviews)
The Past

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s last film, the Oscar-winning ‘A Separation’ (2011), was a taut, subtle drama centred on a well-off Tehran couple going through a divorce. Farhadi’s style is immediate and intense: he employs an unadorned realism to tease quiet, important themes from in-the-moment stories. That same style is very much present in his first French film, ‘The Past’, a story of a Parisian family in emotional flux and touched by tragedy. It’s intricate and often mature as drama, but it’s also meandering and at times heavy-handed, even melodramatic, and the tight control of time, place and action which made ‘A Separation’ so gripping is just not there.

In some ways, ‘The Past’ brings together the best of ‘A Separation’ with the worst of Farhadi’s previous film, 2009’s ‘About Elly’, which was more hysterical, less restrained. Still, he has a keen, sympathetic eye for human weaknesses and strengths. The film’s early scenes as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives from Tehran to visit his estranged wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), are restrained and intriguing. There’s a tension between them, yet in one scene they work together to drive a car home: Marie has a sore wrist, so Ahmad helps with the gears.

Ahmad is in town to finalise a divorce with Marie, who’s living in the Paris suburbs with her two daughters, one a teenager, one younger, from an earlier relationship. She also has a new partner, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and his young son is living with them too. Ahmad is mostly unaware of where Marie’s life has gone in recent years, and there’s more for him, and us, to discover as it emerges that Marie’s new relationship with Samir has a tragic footnote: his wife is in a coma after attempting suicide. Although ‘The Past’ is set over only a few days, Ahmad’s gently inquiring presence is a catalyst for several revelations, and it later becomes clear why Marie’s sad-eyed older daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) is so keen to disappear and join her father in Belgium.

Farhadi is good at upending our initial impressions of characters and situations and infusing his story with a melancholic air and crepuscular light. Yet a surfeit of heavy discussions and shouting in unlikely places undoes so much of his subtler work. Moreover, the film’s increasing reliance on extreme events drowns out the work that Farhadi does to extract meaning from the smallest of gestures and glances.

It’s never entirely clear what Farhadi is trying to say with this film. Perhaps his main interest is responsibility – the taking of it, the lack of it, the search for it, the shirking of it, the claiming of it. He’s at pains to stress how we’re all constrained by our own perspectives on our lives: something he pushes to extremes with the film’s final, terribly overwrought moment. In the end, there’s just so much of ‘The Past’ that doesn’t have that crucial ring of truth to it. Disappointing and underwhelming.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday March 28 2014
Duration: 130 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Tahar Rahim
Ali Mosaffa
Pauline Burlet
Bérénice Bejo

Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
1 person listening

As yet another part of my eclectic birthday celebrations we watched this at home the other day. It is a very well made and absorbing film. The mix of iranian and french culture is really interesting and well explored. 

Ultimately the plot vehicles are bit odd, clunky and histrionic - as to make the plot lack credibility. For me the film is too long and indulgent. The performances and direction are great and if you are french film fan you will probably love this. I generally struggle with French films and so put some of my disquiet to that predisposition.

I loved this movie! For those of us who grew up in Iran watching movies, we get it! It must be hard to be an Iranian film maker without intentional criticism in a obvious Jew run movie industry.

I disagree with the reviewer. It never slipped into melodrama for me. An honest, affecting account of broken lives and the damage we do. Solid performances too. A 4* film by my reckoning.

The first half is quite intriguing and riveting as the story unfolds.However the director makes exactly the same mistakes as in The Separation..From the mid point of the film he just overdoes the misery and maudlin narratives.Again and again the actor rant and rave about their downbeat lives.When the subject is exhausted,the director adds some subtle storyline touches in order to keep the misery repetition going.These extra touches to the plot make the storyline lack credibility and make for irritating viewing.The director needs to realise that we get the point after a couple of scenes and do not need have the point laboured to numbness and torpidity.4 stars for first half and one star for second half,so 2 stars for this effort

After firework Tuesday, about Ely and the separation, I thought Ashgar one of the best directors today

But this is a disappointing, whether working through an interpreter hampered him ?

But the actors do a good job ,but it does drift into melodrama .