Asghar Farhadi’s The Past is altogether splendid and disappointing. Spendid because it is superbly crafted and contains some truly powerful performances from a more than adept cast; disappointing because even though its script is thoroughly convincing, its intended direction is a little vague. Maybe even wayward.
I’ll try to elaborate.
The plot essentially follows a lady, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), her ex husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), and her soon-to-be new husband, Samir (Tahar Rahim), as they try to deal with Marie’s and Ahmad’s divorce and the repercussions of getting married all over again. Marie has two children from her first marriage — the promiscuous devil that she is, Ahmad was her second husband — and Samir has one from his. All three kids live with Marie, but the eldest, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), and the youngest, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), have taken to this new marriage with considerable disapproval and violent disgust.
Fouad constantly fights with Marie and blurts some nasty words from time to time. And Lucie, being older and wiser, deals with her heartbreak in ways that only teenagers know how: Running away to faraway places where she feels safe from the terror of home. Had she been slightly older, she might have come to the realisation that her younger siblings, both whole and step, need her as a role model. Her younger sister, Léa (Jeanne Jestin), no doubt feels abandoned by her big sis, who admits to only coming home to sleep, which itself doesn’t happen very often. But she’s at an age where responsibility doesn’t seem to fit in her life. And the household trouble prevents her from discovering herself.
She is a girl with possibly tragic issues. Burlet plays her with a straight face, through and through. She never cracks a smile, nor does she exhibit any sort of warm and fuzzy emotion. Where she is now, and what’s going on in her life, makes her a tormented young girl. And when Ahmad visits from Tehran to finalise his divorce, he becomes a confidant whose calm demeanour acts as a cushion for her sorrows.
And still, his attention is not enough. None of the adults in this picture think or care about anyone but themselves, and the script makes no effort to hide it. This is where The Past let me down. Yes, I understand that divorce is a traumatic experience for the couple that’s going through it. But what about the children involved? Is it not equally — if not more — traumatic for them? Clearly Marie, Ahmad and Samir can see that their children are unhappy by a) the separation, and b) the new marriage, but do they for once stop to consider their feelings? Unfortunately the answer is no. The world of movies, regardless of cultural background or language, is fast ignoring the relevance and realism of the child character. These days, children in movies exist to either quarrel with their elders, travel on a voyage of self discovery, act cute and loveable, or play with some toys and annoy their parents. What happened to the adventure-seekers like Scout? Kids used to hold movies in the palm of their hands. Now they’re not allowed anywhere near a movie’s heart without first wearing protective gear and a warning siren.
Observe the scene in which Lucie has to break some terrible news to her mother regarding the comatose condition of Samir’s wife (Samir isn’t divorced. He is committing adultery by wanting to marry, and by later impregnating, Marie). Lucie pours her heart out, spilling nasty truths about a misdeed she committed, hoping for forgiveness and redemption. Instead of trying to understand how and why Lucie did such a thing, Marie blows her top and physically assaults her daughter, threatening to disown her. Me, me, me. I, I, I. There is no one else in Marie’s world. She lives for herself. It was at about this point that I surrendered all loyalty to her character and devoted my feelings of consolation and support to the three children.
Asghar Farhadi is a competent director. He makes the smart decision of abolishing a musical score, choosing instead to focus on his characters. Here, in his world, they fold in on themselves, bickering over small issues that ultimately have no effect on anyone else but themselves. Ahmad overstays his welcome and ends up causing more trouble than he had hoped to assuage. Samir turns most of his attention to his comatose wife, neglecting his son Fouad. And not once do any of the grown ups tell their kids that they love them. Need I remind you, adults, that this divorce was a decision made by you. It affects the people living in your peripherals. You can choose to ignore them, but before they leave you for good, you might want to rethink your whole “I, me, mine” philosophy.
Best Moment | It’s hard to pinpoint a Best Moment in a movie like this. It moves along at more or less the same dramatic pace from start to finish, without ever really spiking.
Worst Moment | Marie’s explosion. Height of selfishness.