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Vol. 12, No. 6, 2013
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Robert J. Lewis
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Man Without a Past
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Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
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Ben X
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Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
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Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
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Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines

asghar faradi's


reviewed by


Daniel Charchuk has been reviewing films for Arts & Opinion since 2012. His favourite films include Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. When not watching or reviewing movies, he can usually be found reading science fiction or playing video games.

It is telling that the opening scene of The Past, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, unfolds without any audible dialogue: as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), a soft-spoken and bearded Iranian man, arrives in Paris on a flight from Tehran, he discovers that his luggage has not survived the flight; meanwhile, his (soon-to-be) ex-wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), waiting for him behind a soundproof glass partition, attempts to communicate with him through exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions. Though seemingly little of narrative consequence happens here, its underlying themes of missed connections and fractured communication craft a thematic framework that will inform the remainder of the film.

Like Farhadi’s previous work, the plot of this film unravels in a careful and hierarchical manner, with the writer/director utilizing his impressive penchant for compelling, naturalistic dialogue to reveal unexpected story developments incrementally. As such, it is difficult to encapsulate the narrative without giving too much away; in summary, Ahmad has returned to France after four years away to finalize his divorce from Marie, a French woman to whom he was married for several years and who also has two daughters from a previous marriage. When he arrives in Paris, he discovers that she is now living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and his young son, making for a highly tense and uncomfortable domestic situation. Eventually, recent history is dredged up and shocking prior events are brought to life, giving the film its title and the narrative its action.

This early revelation is only the first of several over the course of the film, each of which ups the ante in terms of surprise and significance. But do not mistake Farhadi’s plot for one of multiple narrative twists and turns; his structure is much more straightforward and streamlined. This does not mean his screenplay is simple or uncomplicated, though; merely that it forgoes the over-complexity of so many modern thrillers in favour of something cleaner and more organic. In fact, Farhadi’s use of melodrama – itself a deceptively simple dramatic form – to slowly unveil elements of the secret at the plot’s core, while also peeling away various characters’ entangled motivations, is intricate and masterful, speaking to the filmmaker’s command of his craft and singular vision. In many ways, this is a mystery movie disguised as a melodrama – or perhaps, depending on your viewpoint, vice versa.

However, Farhadi’s intentions with this film are not so cut-and-dry. As in A Separation, which also used the camouflaging cloak of melodrama to subtly comment on and critique the Iranian state, The Past’s underlying message may be lost underneath the aforementioned narrative mystery and character drama. It is perhaps important to note that Farhadi, like his compatriots Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, chose to relocate to France for the production of this film, seemingly to escape the controversy and censorship of the conservative Iranian government. And though his film is not overtly political or outwardly critical, it does have quite a lot to say on the cultural differences between the East and the West, specifically with regards to gender roles in each.

There is a short scene between Ahmad and Marie, perhaps a third of the way into the plot, which seems to expose this divide. Marie is explaining where she met Samir, and Ahmad, finding something amusing, smiles briefly; Marie takes this for a mocking sneer, and asks him derisively why he would do so; Ahmad explains it is simply a cultural difference. Though concise in length, and practically insignificant to the main narrative, it does seem of vital importance to Farhadi’s main thesis: that disparities between cultures have a way of exaggerating trivial problems and leading to ruptures in relationships, personal or otherwise. Though never explicitly stated, it is implied that the ‘past’ of the title refers not just to the characters’ personal histories, but the relatively recent events of the Iranian Revolution, which essentially severed the country from the West and left it separated, divided by a metaphorical glass partition, unable to communicate or connect with anyone on the other side.



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