Friday, February 7, 2014

The Past

Asghar Farhadi’s ThePast, currently playing at Film Forum, is a cinematic short story. While some films have the breadth of the novel, this tale of an Iranian Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) who returns to France to finalize his divorce has the inexorable logic found in the work of writers who use the shorter form to focus on a character or idea. Farhadi’s previous film A Separation literally ended as a courtroom drama. The Past unfolds as a series of epiphanic testimonies. Ahmad’s wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) has taken up with Samir (Tahir Rahim) whose wife Celine (Alexandra Klebanska) is in a coma as a result of a suicide attempt. As the film unfolds the reason for the suicide is constantly transformed. There’s a short interchange in a judge’s chambers, but scene after scene is a submission of new evidence which constantly changes the complexion of reality, until in an almost dizzying shift the focus turns entirely to Samir and Celine. The disquisition of the movie is almost anachronistic in the way it invests so much weight on happenstance. The determinism, in fact,  brings to mind classic French tragedy. Ahmad could be Theseus returning home in Racine's Phedre. The narrative evolves without the kind of satire and irony you find in most contemporary movies. Every action has a consequence and even though the film does play out on a domestic canvas, one can’t help thinking of it as a political work, in the way that it presents all action as a succession of histories in which characters are finally trapped. Further credence to the presence of a subtle political allegory is given by the recurring image of the glass which separates people from each other. It happens early on when Marie spots Ahmad arriving at the airport and then in the car ride home when Ahmad sees a policewoman through his windshield yet can’t hear what she's saying. But how could a film by a prominent Iranian director with a title like The Past, even one presented in the guise of a melodrama, avoid the realities of the political sphere?

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