Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: February 7, 2014 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
A new romantic mystery buffered by familial discontent via marital breakdown comes from the maker of the universally acclaimed A Separation (set in contemporary Tehran) which had a sociopolitical subtext to resonantly broaden its domestic drama. It has a genuinely cogent subdued realism shaped with detail into how inevitably though not so revelatory how the present comes to be.
Iran's Asghar Farhadi in The Past (in French and Persian with English subtitles) again artfully and deliberately demonstrates the complexity of human interaction, but with more of an episodic, melodramatic feel as troubled, confused individuals are confronted with much uncertainty.
The mesmerizing nature of what is always chronological (though discussing recent and much earlier events) over a few days includes French expatriate Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arriving from his Iranian homeland at a major Paris airport to finalize a divorce (an uncontested legal matter) with wife Marie (Berenice Bejo of The Artist in a rather effective piercing desperate turn).
The unsettling intimacy of Farhadi's storytelling is set in motion from Marie's decision to have Ahmad stay with her (in her rundown abode) along with daughters from an earlier marriage to a Belgian man, ill-tempered and wayward Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and younger Lea (Jeanne Jestin). Marie wants his calming influence perhaps to understand why the older teen has gotten the way she is through the closeness they use to share.
Complicating matters are the other occupants who include her new dry-cleaning proprietor fiance Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) and his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis). Unfortunately with the appearance of Ahmad, a sense of gloom is reinforced from his would-be suicide respirator-bound comatose wife who had learned of their relations.
As the above indicates there is much fermenting for Marie, Samir and the children, indeed, not just how but the motivation for how it unfolded. It turns out that Ahmad is a stimulus for harmony and disclosures as the elucidation involves an old restaurant chum (Babak Karimi) and Samir's illegal worker Naima (Sabrina Ouazani).
So even with a more finite scope and ultimately impact a meticulous craftsmanship abounds in a production abetted with the talents of editor Juliette Welfing and designer Claude Lenoir, for example, along with an inconspicuous, absorbing score. It's the precision and delicacy an auteur like Farhadi provides his characters from the mundane honesty in his approach to material that has a potboiler quality in the midst of undeniable dysfunction. Mosaffa is quite a quiet portal into the upheaval and Rahim strongly serves as a fulcrum through a portrait of guilt and fatherly support. While Jestin evinces naivety and abandon nicely, Burlet does so with a secret with harrowing grace. Aguis is preciously poised for an agonized young boy coping with the separation from a dire, hospitalized mother.
The Past strides in noticeable affecting, wrenching fashion that should appease discerning art house cineastes who know how messy and ambiguous a smaller societal sphere and context can be felt even from its own nominal magnetism.