Tahar Rahim as Samir and Berenice Bejo as Marie in "The Past"
By Barbara Vancheri / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
So close and technologically tethered and yet so far away.
"The Past," from the director of the Oscar-winning foreign language film "A Separation," is rife with missed or muffled communications, from emails gone astray to a school pickup for a teenager already gone. A glass wall and a fogged windshield make hearing or seeing difficult, temporarily, but the ultimate divide involves a hospitalized patient.
Part domestic drama, part thorny mystery, "The Past" opens with the return of Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) to Paris to see his estranged wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo). The reason is not a reconciliation but a chance for Ahmad to finalize their divorce so Marie can marry her new boyfriend, Samir (Tahar Rahim).
Starring: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa.
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language.
Marie insists she told Ahmad she was living with someone; he says he never received that email. He asks what happened to his request that she book him a hotel room; she didn't bother because he had canceled his visit before.
Complicating matters are the children -- Lucie and Lea, Marie's two daughters from her first marriage who adore Ahmad, and Samir's young son, Fouad, who has moved into the house and seems to cause upset at every turn.
Teenager Lucie (Pauline Burlet) is stung by her mother's serial relationships with men. "They come, stay for a few years and then they leave," she says. Samir's situation is more fraught with peril, guilt and divided loyalties than usual; his wife is in a coma.
With Ahmad taking on the role of fixer (literally, for household repairs), peacekeeper, detective and hand-holder, he tries to mend the rift between Lucie and Marie. But he and others find themselves in a world where the past looms large, where apologies are forced or freely given but as one character says, "Some things are unforgivable."
Emotions spike as hysterical adults, especially, strike out in anger, frustration and grief. When something awful happens, the natural inclination is to look for someone to blame, although when fragile human beings are involved, nothing is simple, and "The Past" maneuvers its way through a maze of misunderstandings, overreactions and spiteful actions designed to wound or protect but not have fatal consequences.
Director Asghar Farhadi's movie is in French and Persian with English subtitles, but the story of fractured families and complications could take place almost anywhere.
It's anchored by uniformly strong performances, especially from "The Artist" leading lady and Oscar nominee Ms. Bejo and Mr. Rahim, who was sensational in 2010's "A Prophet" about a 19-year-old prisoner who matures, hardens and slowly shifts the balance of power behind bars. Talented Pauline Burlet, who plays Lucie with tempestuousness or teary tenderness, was discovered at age 9 by the director of "La Vie en Rose" in which she portrayed young Edith Piaf.
"The Past" was considered an Oscar front-runner for foreign language film, but it failed to make the short list of nine, later whittled to five. Its very ordinariness may have been its downfall but that is also its strength and secret to its universal appeal.
In French and Persian with English subtitles, "The Past" opens Friday at the Regent Square Theater.
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