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The Past: Worth treasuring

Rating: ***1/2



DIRECTED BY Asghar Farhadi
STARS Berenice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa

Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in The Past (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in The Past (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

One of the best pictures of 2013, Iranian writer-director Asghar Faradi's The Past not only failed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film, it didn't even make it to the shortlist round, the pool of nine titles from which the Academy chose the five nominees. It was a surprise omission given that the last film from Faradi, 2011's A Separation, deservedly took home the Oscar, and this new piece is admirably its equal.

The film commences with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arriving from his Iranian homeland to Paris in order to meet with his estranged French wife Marie (The Artist's Bérénice Bejo, winning the Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress prize for her work here) and finalize their divorce after several years of both of them relegating it to the back burner. Ahmad expects to stay at a hotel and is upset when Marie instead takes him to the house that she shares with the new man in her life, an Iranian named Samir (A Prophet's Tahar Rahim). To say that there's tension is to put it mildly, and adding to the drama is the presence of Marie's two kids from a previous relationship, the teenage Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and the wee Léa (Jeanne Jestin), and Samir's troubled son Fouad (Elyes Aguis), who's not keen that his mom is in a coma at the local hospital. As Ahmad hangs around, he seeks some sort of closure with Marie, comes to know the kids and hears some disturbing news as to why exactly Samir's wife is presently in a comatose state.

As he did with A Separation, Faradi again proves himself a master when it comes to creating complex characters whose specific scenarios still manage to encompass universal truths. Dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen in the cinema of today, often painted in broad comedic terms or drowning in melodramatic excess. But the players in The Past feel unswervingly real and raw, whether it's Lucie responding better to the soothing Ahmad than she does to her own mother, Marie frequently finding her temper tested and inflamed, or poor Fouad lashing out because he doesn't know how else to respond to the confusing behavior of the adults around him. Blessed with intelligent dialogue, a uniformly excellent cast and a wallop of a closing shot, The Past isn't easily forgotten.

Go here for a complete look at the Best & Worst Movies of 2013.

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