The Past is a terrific, perhaps great film about the way miscommunications and misinformation and misunderstandings create the false assumptions upon which we build the personal narratives we tell to ourselves and to others. Guilt is presumed but not necessarily earned. Truth isn't only subjective but also completely unreliable. Maybe you didn't get an email that had crucial information in it. Maybe you heard wrong. Maybe you're simply on the wrong side of the bed to see what is really happening.
The plot begins straightforward enough: Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France from Iran to sign the papers to be legally divorced from his wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). They have been separated for years, but Marie needs to move on with her life, especially because she's in a serious relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim). (Featuring a man's reluctance to be divorced, The Past is like a much less funny Her.)
In addition to seeing his wife again, Ahmad is reunited with Marie's daughters, teenager Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and the much younger Léa (Jeanne Jestin). Though they aren't technically his children, his relationship is as a father. Marie and Lucie aren't getting along, and they each ask Ahmad to talk to the other on their behalf, to find out what's wrong and to make peace. Matters are tense between Ahmad and Samir, who regard each other warily. Further complicating things is Samir's young son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), who sees only constant upheaval in his life because of what's going on in the adults' world.
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) writes and directs, and the plot he gives The Past winds through the characters' lives with greater complication as it travels. What seems simple or formulaic never is. The more you know, the less you feel you know what's coming next. Farhadi creates thoroughly knotty situations; he starts his film in media res so that we may witness his characters partway through their grieving process of living, coping with damaged families, broken promises, and abandonment.
It's a kind of death without life, but watching The Past is by no means a depressing experience. By the last act, when revelations are bomb blasts and conversations are the fallout, you care intrinsically about these characters and their fate. The Past calls to mind the films of Michael Haneke, Atom Egoyan, and the Dardenne brothers. When they finally come at last, however long delayed, understanding and emotional release serve as a resurrection. ■
Opens Friday, February 28th
Ridgeway Cinema Grill