Everyones favourite Aussie Tim from Beermovie is here today with his thoughts on The Past. Not his past, as I imagine that’s full of regrets, bad decisions and generally just cursing his luck that he isn’t me, but rather the French–Italian–Iranian drama film. Please enjoy his review, and then go check out his site. Or just congratulate him on being alive as I do daily, as Australia is literally full of things trying to kill you.
I cheated a little bit for this ‘Recommended By’ blogathon. I pulled a bunch of films off my DVD shelf that I had been meaning to watch for a while and went searching for a review, good or bad, that made me even more keen to check one of them out.
One of the films was The Past (2013), Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to his Oscar winning, universally loved A Separation (2011). That was a film I really liked a lot, being a totally different tonal take on a crime flick, amongst other qualities. Although I perhaps didn’t love it quite as much as many people, I was still keen to check out his follow up, especially after reading the review of the film on Cinematic. When a film is described as one of last year’s “most powerful experiences of cinema, proving that what really drives filmmaking is a solid script and cast”, I am definitely keen to take a look.
Cinematic is right in that the script and cast do drive a hell of a lot of what is great about The Past, especially I think the latter. Script wise, it’s pretty intelligent work, refusing to spoon feed the audience. The slow burn setup sees a couple meet at the airport. You can feel the tension between them and suspect they are not together. A couple of kids that you presume are theirs are mentioned. Really the rest of the film is just a slow, measured examination of these people, the new relationships they are trying to build (or destroy) and the manner in which actions haunt us in ways we wish they wouldn’t. The script drip feeds the audience information satisfyingly, which is not something that easy to manage, but the balance is right as we gradually build up more and more information. Farhadi is clearly a director with an exceptional grasp of his craft. He controls the sense of pace in the film, the length of scenes and the manner in which conversations and looks drag out. The result of this is that these interactions feel very life-like and also add depth to the themes coursing just below the surface of the action.
The cast are all excellent, but head and shoulders above the rest is Ali Mosaffa who plays Ahmad. I think his character is one of the best I have seen in a long time. I can’t recall as well written a character, a guy who is totally caring and kind but also a very flawed dude at the same time. The material of his character is strong, but I don’t think the character would have been nearly as satisfying were not Mosaffa the one conveying it. It is a really subtle and nuanced performance that makes you feel totally engaged in the actions of the film and what the characters in it are feeling. The film suffers majorly when for some reason his character disappears from the screen for a long section toward the end. In terms of bringing characters to life in a relatable way, the script for The Past is as well written as any. There are minor flaws with it in other areas though. Some of domestic travails to tend to clunk a little bit and some individual lines of dialogue similarly jar. Other dialogue though works better, especially between Ahmad and the teenage Lucie. It is very reminiscent of conversations I had with older confidants as a teenager and their relationship is perhaps the most satisfying of the whole film.
The Past has some dense layers of meaning and relationships, which I think would open up with repeated viewings. That makes it sounds like a real slog, but the film is so well made and acted that it breezes by. As far as grounded drama goes, this film is hard to beat. In fact, I actually think I prefer this film to A Separation.