Friday, February 14, 2014

THE PAST: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today in the Triangle at the Colony Theater in Raleigh, the Chelsea Theatre in Chapel Hill, and the Carolina Theatre in Durham:

(Dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2013)

In his follow-up to the excellent Oscar-winning 2011 drama A SEPARATION, writer/director Asghar Farhadi again deals with divorce, Iranian style.

Ali Mosaffa plays a man who returns to a not so picturesque Paris from Iran to finalize his divorce to his French wife (Bérénice Bejo, best known for her Oscar nominated performance in THE ARTIST). 

Bejo, who has two daughters from a previous marriage, is now in a new relationship with an Arab man (Tahar Rahim, star of Jacques Audiard’s acclaimed 2009 prison drama A PROPHET). Rahim has a son (the cute scene-stealing Elyes Aguis) and a wife who has been in a coma for eight months. So yeah, things are complicated.

Bejo’s oldest daughter (the 16-year old Pauline Burlet) is suspicious of the situation with her mother’s new boyfriend, which calls for Mosaffa to investigate what happened while he was away. Turns out Rahim’s wife’s coma was caused by a suicide attempt, and he is still legally married to her. Other revelations, including the involvement of one of Rahim’s employees (Sabrina Ouazine) at his dry-cleaning business, come to light as Mosaffa gets closer to the truth.

What’s most pleasing is how THE PAST (French title: parcels out its plot points with leisurely precision. The use of spare dialogue, free of messy exposition, lightly layers the story, as Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari’s carefully placed camerawork carries us from one emotionally meaty scene to another.

Despite having to wear a slightly ill-fiting hairpiece, Mosaffa excels as the conscious of the film in his measured acting. We can feel that the heat between he and Bejo, who as a woman caught between anxiety and anger shows much more range than before, hasn't completely faded.

Rahim appears so sullen and distant that it's hard to see how he and Bejo got together, but as the film goes on we get telling inklings of his true sensibility. These all feel like real people that we are eavesdropping in on.

THE PAST isn't as sharply powerful as A SEPARATION, but it's an immersive mixture of solid storytelling and flawless acting that's full of passion for the people it depicts. It's less a cultural statement than it is a meditation on how the hidden connections beneath a fractured family can be felt long before they are revealed. 

More later...

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