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Festival de Cannes 72 Countdown: Le Passé / The Past, 2013

We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.

Le Passé / The Past, 2013

Prix d’interprétation féminine – Bérénice Bejo

Prix du Jury Œcuménique

Iranian maestro filmmaker, Asghar Farhadi, dipped his toe in French language cinema in 2013 with The Past. A far more successful venture than his recent trip to Spain with Nobody Knows. Sadly. The Past plants such a subtle seed of excellence, in all its dark corners and verbal revelations, much more in tune with Farhadi’s excellent films prior, About Elly and A Separation.

There are still native connections here. We join Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian, as he travels back to France after a four years away. He has a divorce to put to bed with Marie (Bérénice Bejo) – as well as some personal closure dangling in the air. Marie and Ahmad’s relationship seems amiable, but there is certainly murky waters under the bridge.

The Past

Ahmad has mixed feelings about Marie now being shacked up with Samir (Tahar Rahim), who has a rather turbulent son, Fouad, and a wife currently in a coma following a suicide attempt. Lucie (Pauline Burlet), Marie’s teenage daughter, is also a troubled soul. That huge chip on her shoulder about her mother and Samir being together, has more weight than the surface indifference suggests.

“Farhadi directs his players with such inch-perfect realism.”

The gradual unraveling of information, secrets, or even conflicting inner turmoil, is Farhadi’s forte. Often we learn thing as the characters do, and with it we experience an authentic, captivating set of responses. And seeing these characters tear-up or lash out is exhilarating, even in the gloomier of those moments.

Farhadi directs his players with such inch-perfect realism. And his writing is like grounded, immersive opera at times. Whether you can relate to these experiences or not, his work is captivating all the same. Even as the film ends with an isolated, beautiful moment, it is one which can now potentially damage relationships – a paradox Farhadi is so proficient at.

In both About Elly and A Separation, desperate or concerned adults put piece together to get to the bottom of social dilemmas. The Past has very similar elements, only with varying degrees of heartache and emotional bounce-back. At the same time, Farhadi is certainly not a one-trick pony. Such issues involving grown-ups (and children) branch out so beyond any assumed pigeon-holing.

The Past

And those children, whether a little too young to understand, or teenagers that perhaps ought to know better. Lucie’s external conflict, heart on sleeve, and fists clenched, comes from more than just resentment. Her own demons, which will surface, are also pushing her to burst. Maybe Marie assigns most of the behavior of her daughter to teen angst or struggling to adapt. Given Marie’s revealed adultery, though, the rocky morals mean that the apple does not fall too far from the tree.

The men are a different ball of anxiety altogether. Ahmad might be the calmest of the bunch, but he cannot hide is agitation of the consenting adult. The ever-frowning boy, Fouad, is an angerball, he has his own insecurities – his father, Samir, is deep in his own guilt and confusion. He and Marie have to hold their hands up, adultery breeds further heartache. The wife’s attempted suicide, though, comes from a place many were not expecting. Blame and distrust is thrown, but misses the target.

“Bejo shows a fury and a regret brimming just under the surface.”

Asghar Farhdi’s characters are generally good people. But even the nicest of souls, or those with good intentions, can become embroiled in the human nature of bad decisions. Whether you lead with your heart or your brain, we are truly capable of taking the wrong path. A path that can hurt those around you, whether you realise it or not.

The Past

In these complex, yet simple, characters, every member of the cast – young, adult, support, lead – do Farhadi proud. Tahar Rahim and Ali Mosaffa are excellent, demonstrating the range of emotions you have to tackle in such circumstances. One in seemingly constant anxiety, the other a kind of observer, not fully sure how to be around these people.

Bérénice Bejo, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes in 2013, employs a subtle kind of magnificence. The range in which her Marie appears conflicted, conforming, and ultimately uncomfortable the repercussion of the actions of herself and others, is emotionally engaging. Bejo shows a fury and a regret brimming just under the surface, able to form a smile that might be spontaneously genuine, or else struggling to hide an enduring pain.

The Past is dominated by the exchanges between these people – be it through actions, body language, or the words they utter. And Asghar Farhadi’s dialogue, and the finely-tuned execution of it, is a wondrous example of brilliant cinema. Not many in this game have that consistent ability.

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