The Past (Le passe) – 2013

I think the best way to get you interested in this film, The Past, is to show you the trailer first.

The Past, aka Le Passe, was directed by Asghar Farhadi, and stars Bérénice Bejo , Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa, along with three kids. Basically, aside from Bejo, I was unfamiliar with any of the principals including Director Farhadi who won an Oscar For Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, in 2012, for A Separation, a film that he wrote and directed.

The Past begins with a metaphor. Simply, a woman waits for man at a Paris Airport. Ultimately they are able to see each other but a thick glass separates the waiting from the arriving. They can see but not touch or hear. Each says something, but we here in the states are not given a clue – we cannot guess unless we happen to speak French or Farsi and can read lips in those languages.

In any event, it is a metaphor for the wall between them, the figurative wall, as well as the literal thick glass. In the first few moments after that, we learn that they were/are married, the man/husband has returned to sign the divorce papers, and that there is still something below the surface, in each of them, that is a deep affection, even love, and around that, we can even say wrapped, is the fact that this husband left the woman, and children, to go back to his birth country which is Iran, four years ago.

That is how the film opens, and there is more, much more that we will come to learn about Marie (Berenice Bejo) and Ahmad, played by Ali Mosaffa.

There are three children; Marie has two daughters from her first marriage, and there is a 7-year-old boy who now lives with Marie and her lover, Samir (Tahar Rahim),

and is Samir’s son.

Ahmad must sign the divorce papers, and show up at a civil hearing to finalize the divorce, as Marie and Samir, plan marriage. We learn the facts quickly, but as the title implies, there is much that hovers over the six of them. And that would be the past.

Each of the characters seems suspended in the present because they cannot help themselves as they cling to the past which harbors their feelings, their secrets, and as you might expect, the keys to the future. That’s one way of putting it. But there’s another way to describe it. Maybe it is the past that surrounds them, making them look backwards.

Director Farhardi has structured his story into something resembling a oninon. As the layers are peeled back – the secrets, the anger, the angst is revealed. But never more than a bit at a time. There are no flashbacks. We remain in the present, and we learn more and more about them as the present situation, inextricably linked to the past, is discussed.

Farhadi changes the perspectives on us. Again and again. First, we see and feel for the woman who wants to get on with her life. But in not too long a time, we’re going to feel more on the side of Ahmad, who has basically been the actual if not biological father of the two daughters. Until he went back to Iran. Marie’s first husband is off in Brussels, and is a non-factor. Ahmad will say in a conversation with Lucie, the 17-year-old eldest daughter – It is hard to face the guy who’s about to marry my ex.

We will take up the perspective of Marie’s daughter Lucie, who is fiercely resentful of Samir. She says, This is Mom’s third guy. I don’t want to see this jerk around. If they marry, I’ll never set foot in that house again.

Samir is also a man of secrets, and failings, and yet, is a man anchored in the present, who looks to the future with expectancy. Only Samir’s son, Fouad, a mere 7-year-old boy, has been uprooted and asked to live in Marie’s house in a Paris suburb. He misses his mother, and misbehaves at the drop of a beret. This is his way of dealing with his stress. And this is why Samir must struggle on a daily basis with his past.

When Fouad and Samir have a set-to on the platform of a Metro station after Fouad did not get off the train with his father.

Samir: We’re going home (Samir’s place)

Fouad: You told me our home was there (Marie’s place).

It is easy see the struggle within this small child who must deal with the loss of his mother, uprooting, and the furor and chaos that seemingly goes on non-stop around him. This is a remarkable performance by this small actor in his first role.

So Ahmad arrives, and Marie has not booked him into a hotel, which causes a disruption of routine in Marie’s house. While he is not perfect, and certainly not without faults, among the other five, he seems the most serene, and level-headed.

But yet, he and Marie were fighting within moments in the car on the drive home from the airport.

Maybe it isn’t him (Ahmad). Bejo’s Marie is a pot that is never away from the hot stove of her life. She’s absolutely great in this film. When we watched her in The Artist, in a silent role, set in the flapper era of the late 1920’s, we saw only the ebullience, and the beauty. This time around Bejo is a modern woman, and full-throated as well as capable of eruption at any time. The histrionics come because of the anger, and the creation of stress for her seems continual. But the result for us is a fabulously nuanced performance that you can only admire for its realism, as well as its potency.

As the perspectives change, and more information becomes available, we will lose our footing. We become less and less sure of where to place our allegiance. Farhadi’s script gives us no safe harbor. It is as if we are on a cruise with these people, and an arrival at a port, any port, is not guaranteed.

This is never made more clear up to and including the closing frames of the film, which create a mystery. We are now unsure of anything. What came before was not a fantasy, or a brain washing, or even a flight of fancy. It was simply a trip into a dark past with these six characters.

I’m going to recommend the film highly. It is not a film for the kids, or for those of you who demand action rather than conversation. But having said that I felt rewarded for having seen the film. Four point five is my rating.

The DVD and the release to Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon.com is scheduled for March 25th, 2014.

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4 thoughts on “The Past (Le passe) – 2013

  1. You could argue that almost nothing happens here, but then again, you couldn’t. Though it’s a lot of talking, it’s all done so well that you get an idea of who every character is, was, why they matter and just what the hell they’re all angry and yelling about. Good review Mike.

  2. Intriguing comment Dan –
    You’re right – nothing happens on screen. Nothing happens to the characters.
    But something does happen.

    For us. We are the ones that are pushed, or pulled from one angle of the story to the other. While the characters remain true to their roles in the story we are made to change our allegiancies, or maybe a better term is sympathies.

    We aren’t rooting per se. It’s not as if we have to prefer one character over another. Or someone is right and someone is wrong and it is a simple black or white decision.

    The real magic of the film is that we are swayed, even convinced, and then, Farhadi changes it up on us yet again. So, we have to reexamine our positions, and re-calibrate our thinking. In short, we. have a group of brilliantly performing actors and beautifully crafted story.

    As you say, nothing happens – that is, if we are looking for a happy ending. In Farhadi’s world – that’s not happening.

    • Thanks Ruth.

      I am sure you will be happy to have seen this one. At last year’s Sarasota Film Festival I watched a film called Pasadena, a world premier actually, which has since been re-titled Cold Turkey. It starred Peter Bogdanovich and was a family drama, set over a Thanksgiving gathering, and I wasn’t at all impressed. It did impact me to the extent that I haven’t gone to see August: Osage County because I didn’t want to sit in on yet another dysfunctional family.

      But The Past is not like either of those. Dysfunctionality is not a part of the equation. I think it is a film of courage and bravery as each character has to face a particular situation, each creating a different perspective. Like each of the family is a spoke on the wheel, and all of them joined on the outer edge as well as at the hub.

      Let us all know what you think of the film once you’ve had a chance to see it.

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