For the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival I figured I’d try and keep some kind of a review diary covering each of the 20 or so films I’m planning to see. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
If I can offer one piece of advice before viewing Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, it would be to ensure you’re well rested. Unfortunately I was not, and as such I think my experience with the film, perhaps my first real disappointment at the NZIFF this year, suffered because of my battle to keep awake.
Following up last year’s searingly brilliant Oscar winner A Separation, Farhadi returns to the theme of divorce in The Past, and once again places his diverging characters in a situation not often explored. Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) have been apart for some time, and while the divorce itself seems like a mere formality that has been put off by Ahmad’s absence (he has been living in Iran), there is more to Ahmad’s return than is immediately obvious.
While not biologically related, it becomes clear that Ahmad has been the the most consistent father figure in the lives of Marie’s two daughters, yet upon his return there are two unfamiliar faces in the house, in the form of Marie’s new fiancé Samir (Tahar Rahim) and his young son.
What follows is an incredibly dense study of several intersecting relationships, much more expansive than A Separation, but The Past’s attempt to cover a broader playing field sees Farhadi lose some of his impact. He takes his time bringing Samir into the story, making it necessary to spend large sections later in the film away from Marie and particularly Ahmad, and loses a little focus in the second act. It’s all vital build up to the film’s emotionally charged, agonising climax, but could have been a little more evenly managed.
The Past is a rich, difficult film, and an interesting (if not as satisfying) companion piece to A Separation. There are a lot of thematic and visual markers common to both works, but the previous film never felt like a slog to get through, which sadly The Past did.