Published on February 22nd, 2014 | by Noah Dimitrie0
The Past (Le Passe)
In Asghar Farhadi’s The Past (a.k.a. Le Passe), a family tears itself apart, not because of anything anyone does, but rather by the secrets that they keep and the promises that they break. Throughout the film, there is an ominous feeling of something gone horribly wrong. But until the end, no one seems to realize that, in reality, nothing was ever right, and that things have simply gotten too unbearable. This is such an honest and heartbreaking portrait of family dysfunction.
We open on Marie (Berenice Bejo) picking up her estranged husband, Ahmad from the airport. He is in town to finalize their divorce, but in the meantime, he must stay at her house. There he is reunited with his two step-daughters and Marie’s new fiancé, Samir, a quiet, yet stern man with a temperamental son to boot. We can immediately tell that things are not going to end well as soon as we see them interact, with their deep-seated glares, like dogs staring at their own reflections.
Marie’s daughter Lucie has a particularly large chip on her shoulder and Ahmad is left to pick up the pieces. The two forge a friendship and she confides that she is unhappy with her mother’s recent decision to start a third marriage. That is all I’m at liberty to say because to say any more would force me to explain myself, which would lead me down a road that is far too complex and contains much more information than you probably want to know. This film works like a chain reaction of secrets, lies, and repressed emotions. It’s a film whose plot takes place in the past but leaks into the present, where we see the consequences overtaking the character’s lives.
Like Farhadi’s international sensation A Separation, this film is a whodunit, but one in which the characters investigate their own lives and come up with answers they’d rather didn’t exist. As the audience, we are toyed with and persuaded to lean towards various conclusions, all technically right and all technically wrong. By the end, all we really know for sure is that the jury is still out.
But the road to getting there is just as engaging, if perhaps a little too melodramatic. The film stumbles through an uneasy second act that feels too set in its ways and far too excited for the events to come. But it finally gathers its footing and delivers something to truly be excited about, a third act so heartbreaking and engaging, you can’t really help but commend the film for its patience.
Farhadi seems significantly more relaxed in the director’s chair this time around. The film is much more calm and collected that A Separation, which was filmed with such zeal and energy. Such a style wouldn’t work nearly as well in this film. For example, a common technique used in The Past is that of showing conversations from afar, the implication being that we know for ourselves what they’re saying. One thing that made A Separation great was the fact that we did see these conversations and that they painted a stark, realistic environment. The Past avoids that kind of zeal and goes for a more subdued tone, one that helps the film avoid feeling tedious or overbearing.
Farhadi has a lot to live up to with this follow up to his previous groundbreaking drama. If there’s one thing The Past is not, it’s A Separation. This time, he isn’t going for any cultural or religious allegations, but rather a feeling of mistrust and disappointment. Each major character in the film adds to the family’s collective suffering by trying to put an end to their pain and/or frustration. They’re all looking for someone to blame. The film crafts an unsolvable puzzle that so desperately needs solving and then laments the fact that there are no more options to be exhausted. The web has been spun. The damage has been done. It’s all in the past where it will reverberate and each person will have to live the rest of their lives with the echoes in their ears.