There are surely more exciting films to anticipate on the Croisette this year, but few felt as guaranteed in advance as Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to A Separation, the Berlin Film Festival favorite that went on to earn Farhadi the Foreign Language Oscar. The Past always seemed like a safe bet, but a promising one, too. Tweets following the screening say about as much.
@daveyjenkins: Exceptional. Replay of A Separation that touches on a every domestic shitstorm imaginable. Palme contender.
@williambgoss: not quite on par with A Separation, but just as chock full of misunderstandings and moral compromises. Superb cast.
@awardsdaily: Farhadi’s The Past will be tough to beat for the Palme. Exceptional.
Yep, Farhadi’s playing to the crowd again in his own unabashedly artistic manner! Inadvertently a sequel to his last film, The Past follows Ahmad, returning to Paris from Tehran to finalize his divorce from his wife, Marie, who has moved on to another lover. You’d move on too if that other lover was Tahar Rahim.
Needless to say, the reaction is resoundingly positive, with few really knocking Farhadi’s markedly deliberate dramatic pacing at this point. Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian says there’s much more surprising content to the film than the referential description might evoke.
I wonder if Farhadi hasn’t overloaded his film with an almost exotic abundance of detail and plot surprises, taking it to the limit of plausibility. But what a grippingly made picture it is, with real intellectual sinew, from the bravura opening scene – Marie picks Ahmad up at the airport, driving an unfamiliar car and backing out of her parking spot she almost has some kind of unexplained prang: a disaster which Farhadi cleverly follows with his opening title, The Past, with a windscreen-wiper motif. Backing out is dangerous; reversing is dangerous; the past is dangerous.
Kevin Jagernauth at The Playlist wasn’t as bowled over as others, but still finds much respect for stars Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim.
While some may have had concerns about Berenice Bejo taking over from the originally cast Marion Cotillard, this role solidifies her as the real deal. She gives a totally different turn from “The Artist,” and arguably the toughest and most unsympathetic part of the film as Marie, who has to reconcile with her daughter, ex-husband and current beau. And Bejo finds all the right notes, in a unscrubbed, nicely toned performance. Mosoffa might be the heart of the entire movie, an almost self-martyring figure, whose desire to make peace might affect his own self-preservation. Meanwhile, Rahim is the most internalized, but his is a character that opens in intriguing ways, particularly in the later stages of the movie. And a special note of attention must go to Brulet (who looks remarkably like Cotillard), who also handles some very tricky material involving her character with great skill.
In Contention‘s Guy Lodge notes the film’s melodramatic qualities, but says they work more often to Farhadi’s benefit than to his downfall.
“I wanted to spare you suffering,” one character tells another in the wake of a further bombshell. “Am I not already suffering?” comes the pained if semi-amused reply. Farhadi is laying on the emotional pain almost perversely thick here, but “The Past” is less a melodrama than an anatomy of one, less interested in the salacious hows and whys of devastating personal crisis — many of which are never fully clarified — than in the slow creep of its absorption by all related parties. It never feels torrid or shrill, though its less compelling final act does raise the question of whether a writer can be democratic to a fault: blame is distributed and delegated so many times in the run-up to its ambiguous finale that dramatic momentum takes a slight hit.
Finally, on a note of summation, Justin Chang of Variety praises the film while noting similarity between Farhadi and one particularly resonant filmmaking legend.
Few filmmakers today can honestly claim to be working in the Renoir humanist tradition, but “The Past” is a veritable demonstration of the central maxim of “The Rules of the Game,” that everyone has their reasons. As familiar as they are often unpredictable, Farhadi’s finely etched characters are forever revealing new sides of themselves to the camera, pulling the viewer’s sympathies every which way as the human condition is not just examined but anatomized.
So there may not yet be all stars for Farhadi’s follow-up, but it’s a resoundingly positive debut that may promise a Palme d’Or from Spielberg’s jury. We’ll certainly keep you posted as best we can from a distance. It’s hard to know the mood in Cannes when you’re not actually there.