Review: The Past is One of the Best Foreign Films of 2013

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Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim star in The Past. (Carole Bethuel/Sony Pictures Classics)

Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim star in The Past. (Carole Bethuel/Sony Pictures Classics)

With a phenomenally structured script and great performances, The Past is shaping out to be one of the best offerings of the year. It was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign picture.

Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is a man who lives in Iran, and after 4 years decides to return to Paris at the request of his wife to finalize their divorce. Marie (Bérénice Bejo), his soon to be ex-wife, is mother to two daughters from a previous marriage, and is currently dating Samir (Tahar Rahim), who in turn has a son with another woman – his wife – who is in a coma. In the brief time he’s there, Ahmad realizes Marie has a very conflictive relationship with her oldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet). He tries, in any way he can, to help improve their situation, but unwittingly stumbles upon a dark family secret.

It has long been said that the Golden Globes are a precursor to the Academy Awards, and it will be no surprise if The Past is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film in next year’s Oscar. The film has already earned a Best Actress (Bejo) award at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Past is a French-Iranian production, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. It stars Bejo, Rahim and Mosaffa. Farhadi has long been known for using family themes in his films, and dissecting them to make a profound analysis of their implications. A great example of this is his critically acclaimed A Separation.

Throughout his career, Farhadi has always struggled with the censorship laws in his native Iran, and his latest film was no different. He had to shoot the film in France, which took two years to complete. Although working abroad affords him more freedom with his work, he claims he will never forget his roots and will continue to work in the same way.

Despite these censorship limitations, The Past has already accumulated rave reviews wherever is has been screened, and all the nominations it has received are validations of its brilliance.

With its use of a visually simplistic cinematographic language, The Past intelligently borrows from the characters and their ability to convey any emotion, while contrasting love and hate at every moment. It helps the audience become mute witnesses of this painful conflict in which there are no right or wrong perspectives, and where the past returns to engulf all those involved, thus becoming the real protagonist of the film.

Family is universal, regardless of race or nationality, and all families experience the same type of negative and positive events. With his film, Farhadi shows us that if we don’t leave the past behind, it will chase us and control our lives without hope for a better future. Looking to foreign cinema is well worth it, because regardless of cultural differences, it has produced phenomenal cinema like this film.


The Past
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens on Friday in Los Angeles

4 stars

Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).

Ramon Aviles is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment.
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