TIFF 2013: The Past – Capsule Review

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Berenice Bejo, Ali Mossafa
Runtime: 130 Min
Rating: 14A

Reflection can reveal many secrets, or so it seems in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past. The film follows a family led by Berenice Bejo, her two daughters, her new boyfriend, and his son. Things get shaken up when Marie-Anne‘s (Bejo’s) soon-to-be ex-husband returns to Paris to sign the divorce papers. An innocent man who is just making peace with the family of which he was once a part, Ahmad gets dragged into the high-stakes family drama.

The film unfolds slowly but rewardingly as the mystery that is haunting this family comes together piece by piece. The film, which is Farhadi’s follow up to his sensational hit A Separation, does not pack nearly the same punch, but is still a valiant effort in complex storytelling. Bejo won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of Marie-Anne, wherein she truly gets inside the skin of a hormonal, irrational, and irritating woman who is trying her hardest to hold everything together. Her character is not very complex; she is shrill and stereotypical, but she is also tormented. It is not her, however, with whom the audience can most easily sympathize. Stealing the show here are the child actors; Pauline Burlet as Lucie and Elyes Aguis as Fahoud deliver the strongest and most affecting performances of the film. The demons with which these two children have to live make this film as compelling as it is, and the heart-breaking performances from these two new actors make the film worth watching. Finally, the individual holding the entire film together is Ali Mossafa as Ahmed, the only level-headed person in the whole work. His expert performance guides the audience through the film as he acts as an on-looker in a similar way that we are, and we see the story through his eyes.

The Past offers an interesting plot that keeps the audience on their feet as the truths of the characters are revealed, and if it was not following A Separation, the film may receive more credit for its investing family drama. The film is at the disadvantage of following a masterpiece, but with brilliant performances and a family secret that is satisfying and devastating, The Past is a journey worth embarking on. A beautiful portrait of a tormented family, the emotions are heavy and the ending leaves one hanging, and reveal Farhadi as a master of cinematic complexity.

Overall Score: 4/5

Photo Credit: Toronto International Film Festival