Monday, December 30, 2013

Le passé (The Past)

Like Farhadi's previous film, A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin, 2011), this is a superb feat of narrative construction and mise en scène, keeping three to four characters at the centre of attention, and balancing their motives and desires with careful equanimity. The problem is that there's little more to recommend the film than this cleverness, since none of the characters is especially interesting or likable, and the third act develops into a twist-too-far detective story, before ending on a note that, albeit presumably not deliberate, is a thudding sequel set-up, and for a film of far more lively desperation to boot.

Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has come back to France to sign divorce papers for Marie (Bérénice Bejo) who, to his surprise, is about to get married to Samir (Tahar Rahim). The film's first two thirds are a negotiation of this territory and the frictions it creates with Marie's two daughters and Samir's young son (Elys Aguis, giving the film's best performance). Ahmad proves himself too good to be true, taking on the chin Marie's thoughtlessness, withholding, and perpetual irritability, calming the children, fixing a bicycle, dispensing wisdom all round, and even getting on civilly with Samir. Meanwhile, Marie is insufferably selfish, bratty, and generally unpleasant to be around, and Samir displays little more character than his over-the-top teary eyes brought on by a paint allergy.

This is a dinner party movie par excellence for those who go to the cinema maybe every couple of months, ready to be prompted to incapable discussions of ethics, motivation, and inferred emotion, and gasp excitedly "wasn't it a shock when.." etc. (and this is not a film for those allergic to exclusively first-world problems). It is all about guilty consciences being assuaged; there is nothing here of substance. Hints that feelings from the marriage may still exist are not exploited; the new relationship has no depth at all; the youngest daughter may as well not be in the film for all the relevance she has; and one cannot fathom why anyone puts up with Marie (to be fair we are told she has a history of men leaving her).

The elder daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) is the most interesting character not in a coma, and does the most interesting thing in the film (before it starts, in fact) but even she is a standard-issue sulky teen. This is a film where nothing is at stake save the characters’ comfort, and for the audience it is hard to care. The final act question of who is to blame for a terrible act (again, prior to the film's timeframe) is vaguely answered as "everyone" by the multiple revelations. All except goody-two-shoes Ahmad, who's going to have to come back for the sequel and sort everything out again.

d Asghar Farhadi p Alexandre Mallet-Guy sc Asghar Farhadi, Masssoumeh Lahidji ph Mahmoud Kalari ed Juliette Welfling pd Claude Lenoir m Evgueni Galperine, Youli Galperine cast Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Sabbrina Ouazani, Babak Karimi, Valeria Cavalli
(2013, Fr/It, 130m)
posted by tom newth at

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