The opening scene of The Past features a pair of characters in a busy airport terminal attempting to communicate through a glass partition. They’re not very successful, to no surprise, and it serves as a fitting thematic symbol for what The Past represents – the things in life that get in the way and make communicating with loved ones a difficult, and at times seemingly impossible, task.
The Past is Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to 2011’s A Separation, one of the very best foreign films of the past decade that holds a coveted 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it doesn’t quite achieve that film’s masterpiece status, it is more than a worthy effort that firmly establishes Farhadi as one of the most exciting and dramatically adept directors working in the world today. How it didn’t even qualify for the Best Foreign Film shortlist at this year’s Oscars is beyond comprehension.
Farhadi’s two films also make for absorbing companions. Both use a messy divorce as a springboard into examining an intimate domestic setting more closely, gradually peeling back layer upon layer to reveal no person or situation is as cut and dry as at first appearance.
Relationships turn out to be incredibly complicated and cluttered. Characters rush to judgment without knowing the whole story and suffer devastating consequences. The past continually reverberates its ugly head in the present, hence the title. Emotional collateral damage is everywhere. And yet, startlingly and to his credit, Farhadi never settles for a simple defeatist attitude despite all the distress.
It wallops like a gut-punch, no question. There are scenes likely to make you wince. There’s no music of any kind until the end credits, no easy relief or insinuation about how you’re supposed to feel. The words and the silence in between those words are loud enough, exquisitely conveyed by the superb leads – Ali Mosaffa, The Artists’s Bérénice Bejo and A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim.
The Past knows we all make mistakes and have faults, but it also knows healing is possible when we admit and take ownership of them. As the film’s potently ambiguous final single-shot reveals, the choice on when and if it is irreparably late is up to you.