Two years ago I had the pleasure of viewing and reviewing an Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. The film, “A Separation,” went on to win 70 major awards around the world, including an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. Apparently the whole world loved it as much as I did.
Now Farhadi has done it again. His newest release, “The Past,” is another complicated and heart-rending drama of a family in crisis. Berenice Bejo, a cool and elegant beauty, plays the mother of a troubled 16-year-old daughter by an earlier marriage and an 8-year-old daughter (by the same husband or somebody else — her second husband? A lover? It’s not clear.). She and her daughters live in Paris with her boyfriend and his 5-year-old son. It’s her apartment, tiny and crowded and stuffed with too much furniture, right next to the railroad tracks.
It takes a few minutes to sort out the relationships and who belongs to whom, but it soon becomes clear that Marie (Bejo) has sent for her second husband, Ahmad, (a compelling Ali Mosaffa) to come from Tehran to sign divorce papers so she can marry her current boyfriend, Samir (a dark and brooding Tahar Rahim).
Marie and Ahmad have been apart for four years, but it is obvious that there is a great residue of feeling left between them. Will they continue to fight with each other, or will they get back together?
And what is the story with Samir’s wife? She has been hospitalized for eight months, in a coma, after having attempted suicide.
And why is Marie’s older daughter, Lucie (an exquisite Pauline Burlet), so troubled and angry?
The entire film is unremittingly intense, but absolutely gripping. The writing is extraordinarily good and you really come to care for these screwed up people. They all have their reasons for angst and they are doing the best they can in circumstances that are overwhelming and continually shifting.
Ahmad, especially, goes out of his way to be helpful, especially with the three children. He plays with them and draws them out and listens to their concerns and, trying to help, finds himself in the middle of everyone’s tangled perceptions.
Farhadi directs with a steady beat and great sensitivity, and the production qualities of the film are first rate. Especially the English subtitles, which for once leave you feeling assured that everything that is said in the film appears on the screen.
“The Past” opened in L.A. on Dec. 20 and is currently playing at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., in Los Angeles.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.