The Past: Tension and tremendous moments
It's been four years since Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) last saw his soon to be ex-wife Marie (Berenice Bejo). However, that hasn't prepared him for what he discovers upon arriving in Paris to finalise their divorce. Her shabby house is in disrepair and situated right next to the railway tracks, she's struggling to control her kids (the result of a relationship prior to her and Ahmad's) and her new "fiance" and his son have moved in.
Despite finding it "hard to face the guy about to marry his ex", Ahmad starts putting the house in order, cooking for the kids and fixing the rather dilapidated plumbing. But the more time he spends there, the more "secrets" he uncovers, as well as the growing realisation that there are some past hurts that can't be easily fixed.
Like Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's last effort, 2011 Oscar winner A Separation, The Past is a slow-burning, but ultimately searing drama that at times can feel a little theatrical but more than makes up for that by delivering a tidalwave of tension and tremendous moments.
Farhadi famously wrote this script in Persian and then spent two years living in France to better understand the French language and the results show as the film perfectly captures the rhythms of domestic life and the ripples caused by the return of a formerly key family member after a long absence.
It helps greatly that Farhadi has put together a superb cast with Iranian actor Mosaffa a calm and cool presence amongst the chaos, A Prophet's Tahir Rahim suitably enigmatic as Marie's new beau and the bee-stung lipped Bejo (The Artist) shining with the same luminosity of Angelina Jolie at her best.
Point of view shots and the clever use of sound (many conversations take place offscreen and sometimes just enough out of earshot) draw the viewer in, but if the visual symbolism is at times a little too heavy-handed it is at least memorable (particularly the rain-swept opening with its winderscreen-wiper-inspired titles and the truly haunting final image).
A film concerned with actions and apologies, The Past is a rare modern cinematic drama that manages to marry weighty themes with surprising twists and inspired storytelling.