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  • Articles by Susan

    The Past (Le Passé), France 2013

    This wonderful absorbing big messy chunk of life, sprawling in front of its audience, is actually a vigilant dissection of bad choices and failed relationships by director Asghar Farhadi.

    Ahmed and Marie have separated four years previously. Ahmed, now living in Teheran, returns to Paris at Marie’s request to finalise their divorce. The film opens in the airport, with Marie trying to signal Ahmed through a glass partition, but he fails to see or hear her, setting the course of the film and their troubled relationship.

    Although Ahmed has asked Marie to book a hotel room for him she hasn’t done so and instead takes him to her chaotic home: made more so by the redecorating that is taking place. This untidy house is a metaphor for the disorderly relationships portrayed on screen; Marie is living there with her two daughters from a previous relationship, one of them a troubled teenager; Lucie.  Unknown to Ahmed Marie is in a relationship with another man, Samir, and together with his son he has recently moved into Marie’s chaotic household. Just why has Marie brought them all together? And is Samir right when he says the relationship between Marie and Ahmed isn’t finished?

    In this volatile setting Marie asks Ahmed to speak to Lucie about her increasingly difficult behaviour. As he attempts to build bridges between Marie and Lucie, he uncovers layers of deception as it is also revealed that Samir’s wife is in hospital having tried to commit suicide. This seemingly contrived set of circumstances has actually been carefully composed by Farhadi and reveals, as the characters look to the past, the bad choices they have made and the impossibility of righting them. Bit by bit Farhadi offers different reasons for Samir’s wife suicide attempt, but there is no conclusion and the audience is left, as the characters are, with an unresolved issue that they are unable to right or fully understand.

    This is an extraordinarily adult and cerebral examination of messy choices, lives gone wrong and how sometimes it is impossible to put it all back together again. It continues Farhadi’s examination of relationships breaking down, which he explored in The Separation.  It has echoes too of the 2003 film, The House of Sand and Fog, directed by Vadim Perelman. That film also had an Iranian subtext, where the home is the setting for a seemingly never ending succession of pain and where all the characters are ruined by the frailties of others, as well as their own.

    The characters in The Past are equally destructive and unable to stop looking backwards, but Farhadi’s characters never stray into melodrama. Indeed, despite the bleak piling up of events, confrontations and bitter rows, it is a tremendous and genuinely satisfying look at the sad clutter of ordinary lives.


    The Past (Le Passé)   France, 2013

    Director: Asghar Farhadi

    Marie: Bérénice Bejo

    Ahmed: Ali Mosaffa

    Samir: Tahar Rahim

    Lucie: Pauline Burlet

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