The Past DVD Review

A film called The Past suggests that it is anything but. Indeed, the characters here are engrossed in events that they can’t leave behind. It’s Marie’s (Berenice Bejo) fault, really, for taking action to move on; to do so, she has to secure a divorce from her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa). She hasn’t booked him a hotel, and while he’s convinced its vengeance on her part, he bunks with Fouad (Elyes Aguis), the young son of Marie’s new partner Samir (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim). One of Marie and Ahmad’s own children, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), adds to the ructions with her own secrets causing tension with her increasingly frustrated mother.

While The Past, like director Asghar Farhadi’s previous films About Elly and A Separation, has a small, tight cast of characters, it somehow feels a great deal more oppressive than his previous work. This is partly due to the greyness of the Parisian setting, captured in dull but perfectly framed images by cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari. He keeps the focus tight on the characters, not allowing us to escape their tangled drama as it unfolds in the dingy settings of the home, Salim’s laundry and the pharmacy where Marie works. When Ahmad visits an old friend, the lightness of the different setting is enormously conspicuous. Just as the characters are bogged down in unresolved histories, so the audience are mired in the darkness this brings upon the people we are watching.

Farhadi’s tactile writing becomes a bit enamoured of its own drama by the end, segueing awkwardly into soapy revelations, but his talent for writing fluid, identifiable dialogue remains fully intact. Even if they become rather exhausting, the fractious interactions between characters are bracing microcosms of the result of the human failure to communicate. Bejo, who won Best Actress at Cannes for the film in 2013, is particularly adept at delivering these scenes with a low key but almost guttural power; her physicality places Marie between soft feminine calm and a brittle, defiant bullishness. She’s almost a contradiction in terms, but Bejo, perhaps more than any other participant in the filmmaking process, understands where the film has placed her character.

‘Leave her out of it,’ one of the men says of her, and an ingeniously quiet two-shot unites the two males in ‘protecting’ her, shielding this woman from the pain of the situation and the troubles of her own children. Marie, of all three, seems most desiring of leaving the past behind, even if the Ahmad’s approach of working through it might be healthier. The other major female adult character is only briefly glimpsed: Samir’s current wife lies hopelessly in a coma, but her lack of agency does more than any other character’s actions in driving the narrative, by how her unknown feelings leave the others clueless as to the reality of events.

The Past is a hard, sharp drama, anchored in dark emotional currents. It’s a difficult watch, as Farhadi is unrelenting in how closely he sticks to these people and how painful he makes the extrapolation of their tangled problems, but for those with an interest in rich, realistic dramatic interaction, he is a director that is almost unparalleled these days. It’s a shame that the film’s later stages segue into the more melodramatic and convoluted revelations, but then, perhaps the film too is more comfortable in the past tense.

Artificial Eye’s familiarly polished DVD and Blu-Ray issue of the film also contains an intriguing Making Of, which runs just under half an hour and details, among other things, the construction of the entire house featured in the film. Interviews with the three main cast members are simply shot and cover familiar ground, but are engaging glimpses into the differences between actor and character, while the final testimony from cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari casts amusing light on Farhadi’s filmmaking process.

The Past is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray from Curzon / Artificial Eye.

About The Author

Born in Birmingham and now living in London, David took a love of cinema through two degrees, capping them off with a dissertation on Julianne Moore. (He likes to think he helped her win the Oscar.) He currently works in commercial advertising at Hearst UK and watches as many films as he can in his spare time. You can frequently find him beholden to the visage of Jessica Chastain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.