Film Review: 'A Separation' Director Unearths Complexities Of 'The Past'
At the 84th Academy Awards in February 2012, the worlds of director Asghar Farhadi and actress Bérénice Bejo were serendipitously in synch. He won the Oscar for best foreign language film for Iran's A Separation, and she was nominated for The Artist, which went on to win Best Picture. Now their careers thrillingly converge in his extraordinary follow-up film The Past.
Bejo plays Marie, a pharmacist who lives in Sevran, a modest outlying suburb of Paris, with two beautiful daughters from her first marriage and a new boyfriend, Samir (the charismatic Tahar Rahim from A Prophet). In the opening scene, Marie is at an airport retrieving her second husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who she has summoned to France from Iran in order to finalize their divorce. They're no longer in love but seem fond enough of each other to be civil.
When Ahmad arrives at Marie's home, it's obvious from her daughters' warm welcome that they thought of him as a dad. That sentiment is not shared of Samir, even though he and his young son, Fouad, live with them as well. As the house gets full, the sleeping arrangements get more confusing, and paths inevitably collide with great awkwardness and tension.
As if the situation wasn't delicate enough, Farhadi (who shares script credits with Massoumeh Lahidji) weaves into the story a couple more threads: Marie is pregnant with Samir's child while Samir's wife lies in a coma after a suicide attempt eight months earlier. And though she's not even seen until the film's final minutes, her character is as profoundly felt as any of the others. The ruin of her physical being haunts Samir and his son, keeps his and Marie's marriage at bay, and serves as the central mystery to the film's third act.
Some may surmise from the synopsis, of all this plot and sub-plot and super-plot, a film teetering precariously on the brink of melodrama - not unlike a 1950's Douglas Sirk picture seasoned with Middle Eastern and European sensibilities. In fact, that's exactly what it is and why it's so entertaining. It's a complex, multitiered, beautifully acted portrait of people pulled and pushed into circumstances rife with guilt and blame, and their morally sound inclinations to create lasting and true apologies.