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Past (2013), The

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 20, 2013
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted December 20, 2013 | E-mail the Author

I have come to realize that when one walks into a film created by Asghar Farhadi, they should expect a well-balanced and beautifully-told drama. His previous motion picture A Separation managed to surprise and captivate audiences around the world. There are few filmmakers that are able to transcend a drama to such new heights. The characters are rich, the screenplay is clean, and the relationships are incredibly complicated. Farhadi manages to deliver a raw and unique vision that stands out from any other filmmaker. Therefore, I expected no less from his newest film The Past. However, Farhadi has now added a mystery aspect to this dramatic plot that allows him to take audiences through various twists and turns that will constantly keep you attempting to figure out the dark secrets and thoughts of these troubled characters.

Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is an Iranian man who deserted his family in order to return to his homeland. He ultimately decides to return, but his wife, Marie Brisson (Bérénice Bejo), wants a divorce. She has already started a new relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), who she plans to marry after the divorce goes through. Ahmad and Marie's kids, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and Léa (Jeanne Jestin) are thrown in the middle of this chaotic change that will affect everybody. However, Samir has a child of his own, named Fouad (Elyes Aguis). Ahmad soon discovers how he acts different from other children, but he will soon discover the dark tragedy that lies behind the child's seemingly innocent eyes.

The film opens with Marie Brisson picking Ahmad up from the airport. There's already an uncomfortable and awkward feeling in the air. However, this opening scene instantly had me hooked. Marie Brisson attempts to catch Ahmad's attention as he exits the plane. She's behind soundproof glass, as she tries to shout out to him. However, he doesn't hear a sound until a woman points her out. They get in the car, and as she pulls backwards out of the space, she almost gets in an accident. This film couldn't have been set-up in a more perfect way. This represents the situation of her calling out to her husband, but he never actually heard her. When pulling out of the spot, this is symbolic of the fact that the past is dangerous. This is a way for writer/director Asghar Farhadi to display that going back just might have fatal consequences. If this symbolism intrigues you as much as it does me, then you're in for a real treat for the remainder of the running time, as it's filled with such small and wonderful symbolism that simply enhances the plot and the characters within it.

From the moment that Ahmad returns back to the house, it's clear that something is seriously wrong. Every individual is acting insanely tense and odd. However, his return quickly starts to bring the daughters back to life. Lucie and Léa haven't seen him in quite some time, but they instantly recognize him. From this moment until the credits begin rolling, he acts as the mediator between each individual. Despite the fact that he will no longer be a legal member of the family, he still cares deeply for them and wants the children to grow up in a healthy environment. However, the longer he stays, the darker the situation becomes. Ahmad soon discovers that Samir already has a wife, but she's in a coma. There are no clear answers and everybody's moral compass is put under the spotlight. There's a lot going on and every aspect of it is as complicated and harsh as reality. There are very high stakes that aid in keeping audiences invested and captivated by what's occurring on the screen.

This is a very difficult story to bring to the big screen, since it constantly hangs on the border of becoming melodramatic. It occasionally crosses that line, which doesn't do the film any favors. However, the majority of the time, the film comes across as having an engrossing plot with strong characters. The closer you get to the end, the more twists and turns begin to occur. This isn't a predictable drama, as it constantly keeps viewers guessing where it will go next. We're led to believe one thing, but Farhadi will quickly swing us in a completely different direction. This is a fantastic way to keep The Past feeling fresh and like a moving story, rather than a formulaic drama that you'd expect to see from Hollywood. There are numerous plots that occur at once, which writer/director Asghar Farhadi manages rather well. Some of them deserve a little bit more attention than they receive, but this still feels like a complete motion picture with an incredibly emotional journey accompanying it.

Not only has The Past received a lot of recognition for its well-told story, but it has collected a lot of attention for its performances as well. Bérénice Bejo is absolutely phenomenal in the role of Marie Brisson. You might remember this Oscar-nominated actress as Peppy Miller from The Artist. She won the "Best Actress" award for her portrayal of this stressed wife and mother in The Past at the Cannes Film Festival. This is a dynamic representation that will have you believing that this character is real. Ali Mosaffa is fantastic as the level-headed Ahmad. This performance will cause viewers to quickly support him, as he fights to get to the bottom of what's really going on. Tahar Rahim does an outstanding job as Samir. There's a lot more to this character than what's actually shown on screen, and Rahim does a wonderful job in displaying a lot through his delivery of the most subtle of movements and expressions. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi works insanely well with this cast of brilliant actors.

While this isn't quite as good as A Separation, it isn't very far off. This is still an incredibly captivating dramatic piece of cinema that never lost my attention. There's an unpredictable mystery in the center of it all that will constantly have you guessing what will happen next. The Past comes across as being a real story, as the characters are extremely complex, there are numerous sub-plots weaving in and out of the main plot, and there are no easy answers to the family's obstacles. While it sometimes comes across as being a bit melodramatic, it's carried extremely well by the stunning cast. The Past is a powerful feature that doesn't hold back. Highly recommended!



Highly Recommended

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