Things Fall Apart In Constantly Surprising Ways In Farahdi’s Latest Film
All things crumble. Given enough age and time, everything decays. Buildings fall, bridges collapse, streets crack apart. Without constant maintenance, even the Mona Lisa will flake away until it’s nothing but blank canvas. It takes work to keep things serviceable, at presentation condition. Relationships are no different and never has this been better illustrated than by the work of Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi. Like his last feature, the exceptional A Seperation, Farahdi swings for the fences again with The Past, a somber and honest look into a disintegrating marriage.
The declining union under the microscope is between Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) and Marie (Berenice Bejo). Ahmad returns to France after a four year separation to finalize his divorce with Marie, only find things have drastically changed. Marie is living with Samir (Tahar Rahim), a man with a comatose wife, his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) and his daughters Lucie and Lea. Originally planning on a couple of days in his old neighborhood, Ahmad finds himself wrapped up in the emotional tumult of an ever changing family dynamic.
Farhadi is an expert at crafting dialogue and directing actors with The Past being no exception. Bejo in particular is masterful as a woman stretched to the brink by new love and old memories. More than deserving of her Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Bejo is the story’s emotional hinge. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, each with human cracks and complicated fissures. While The Past doesn’t have the explosiveness of Farhadi’s previous work and has a flat tone, the fine acting more than makes up for any lulls in intrigue.
Behind the camera, Farhadi makes genius decisions in his framing of the unfolding drama. Carefully paced and full of long shots through windows, doorways and hallways, the audience jumps between casual observer and active participant. It’s a subtle yet interesting technique, important in a story full of twists and turns. Also serving as the screenwriter, Farhadi again ensures no dialogue is wasted. Every word either moves the plot along or provides character insight.
Asghar Farhadi has his finger squarely on the pulse of human relationships. The more things twist apart, the more they string together in unexpected ways. His work is constantly evocative and with The Past, he cements his reputation as the most interesting Middle Eastern director working today. When I finished the screening, I labeled the film as wonderful yet depressing, a credit to his storytelling prowess. After giving it more thought, there’s a deeper reality. Farhadi’s latest work is startlingly truthful and it’s his near perfect insight into the human condition which strikes deep. It’s a downer because it’s painfully honest. The Past isn’t just a voyeuristic view into a troubled family. It’s a reminder of how much work is required to maintain the connections which matter most.
Score: 9 out of 10