This is a reprint of my review from when I saw the film at the Brisbane International Film Festival in November 2013.
“When two people see each other after 4 years and still fight together, it shows that there is something unsolved between them.”
If you asked me to summarise the main themes of The Past, you’d walk away thinking “that sounds a lot like A Separation“. In some ways, yes it is. It’s another Farhadi film about a couple divorcing, parenthood and other elements of family. But in many ways, it’s incredibly different. While this feels about a natural continuation of A Separation from a shot in the opening scene that is a clever mirror of one of the final ones in the aforementioned film, The Past is in a different country, with a different justice system, cultural ideals and ultimately a whole new playing field and totally different situation.
Upon reflection, it is evident that Farhadi has had a much bigger budget to work with here. Among other things, there are more elaborate settings and more technology involved (which is also a factor of the film being set in a different country), but the elements of what made A Separation so incredible are still present: intimacy, crowdedness and tension through most of the film being set inside, or, when characters are outside, they are not shown being in a wide open space, rather they are always held back by something, be it a car, fence or trees; and naturalism through the absence of artificial lighting, music, and the muted colour scheme of browns, greys, dark blues, and off-whites; which immediately draw attention to the events taking place within the settings, rather than the surroundings.
On describing Farhadi’s films, it’s odd when you consider how much they are loved, despite not being ‘showy’ and quite simple on the surface. While The Past does not offer up a commentary on the separation of class, religion and gender in the legal system, it is still incredibly powerful and insightful, every bit as surprising as A Separation. The screenplay and performances are once again impeccable, and the narrative is increasingly complex, it doesn’t let you go for one second. Maybe that’s what is so incredibly loved about Farhadi: they appear simple and almost ‘stripped down’ on the surface, but as the film progresses, the initial events just continue to spiral out of control, getting more and more far reaching, the end result being not what it started out as, in the best way possible. It involves more and more people, and becomes incredibly deep and complex without becoming far-fetched.
The Past is another incredibly gripping family drama from Asghar Farhadi, which tackles parenthood, moral obligation and relationships from an entirely different perspective. A Separation is, in my opinion, one of the hardest films to follow up ever, and Farhadi has done a stellar job, a film worth the wait for. It’s a knock out.
The Past received a limited release in Australia starting Thursday (February 6, 2014) after playing at Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide Film Festivals.
M (mature themes and coarse language), 125 mins.