Academy Award nominated screenwriter Asghar Farhadi has proven to be a very skillful storyteller once again with his new film distributed by Sony Pictures Classics called The Past (Le passé), Iran’s official submission for Foreign Language Film for the upcoming 86th Academy Awards.
The film tells the amazing story of Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian man who leaves his wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and two children to go back his country. Her two children, which are not biologically his, look at him as a father figure despite a four-year absence. When he returns to sign his divorce papers, after Marie has started a new relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), he must face the harsh reality that this old life he once knew is slipping away but not before a chain of events threatens and possibly presents a new opportunity for a reconnection for the broken family.
Starring Bérénice Bejo, who appeared on our radar’s just two years ago for her magnificent performance in Michel Hazanavicius’ Oscar-winning The Artist, is superb. The talented actress, who won Best Actress earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, is just simply fantastic. Only ever seeing her in the silent film in which she was Oscar nominated, it’s pleasing to be able to hear her rip into a scene the way she does in Farhadi’s picture. She’s engrossing in her mannerisms and artistic choices to portray her near volatile mother and girlfriend. Bejo delivers one of the year’s best leading female performances.
Also stepping up, and delivering my favorite performance from the film is Ali Mosaffa as the confident and reserved Ahmad. Again, not being too familiar with Mosaffa’s body of work, his turn in The Past is tenderly sensational. Something about the way he portrays Ahmad reminds me of Jude Law’s work in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain. His performance is reactionary and depends on everything that is going on around him. He nails everything that the script requires him to achieve.
Tahar Rahim is frighteningly brilliant. Blasts through the screen similar to his work on Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (Un prophète), Rahim plays Samir like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any moment. He leaves the audience unsure about how to feel about him and his motivations. It’s an impeccable performance.
I also have to give an immense amount of credit to Pauline Burlet, who plays Lucie, Marie’s 16-year-old defiant daughter. She controls her passion, keeping everything at the edge without ever going overboard. I want to see more of this beloved actress.
One of the most impressive things about Farhadi’s film is the way he reveals facts about the tale and his extraordinary timing in which he reveals them. The movie unfolds like a surprise birthday gift; packing an impetuous chain of events that feel both natural and fulfilling. I was enthralled nearly the entire time. Taking place in France, the film mainly takes place in two or three large set pieces including an apartment and a dry cleaner. Better yet, and once again, Farhadi ends his film on the most prolific note and is probably one of the most acroamatic yet satisfying and exhilarating shots of the cinematic year.
At 130 minutes, the film feels just a smidge too long. Mahmoud Kalari‘s cinematography is subtle yet affecting and a standout of the technical aspects of the picture.
The Past is a captivating and riveting film. One of the year’s best films in any language. The Past is an Oscar contender that should find love from members of guilds and press that appreciate masterpiece storytelling. I’m in love with it.