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Synopsis: Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to his ex-wife in France to settle a divorce. Whilst there he attempts to settle several conflicts concerning his ex’s new lover, his ex’s daughter, and his own relationship with the family.
Few directors can compose domestic drama so precisely; in contemporary terms Sam Mendes showed off that skill withAmerican BeautyandRevolutionary Road, and, more recently, Asghar Farhadi has showed an expertise at depicting household upset. The Iranian director’s critically acclaimedAbout Elly and Oscar-winningA Separationalready emphasise the sheer perfection of his direction. His latest,Le Passé, shows the same as each shot, each beat of movement, and every edit is meticulously handled – with a wealth of meaning behind each choice of framing and lighting. It’s terrific to look at as art, and even better as a focal point of discussion.
Story-wise the film is tough to explain but easy to follow; it mostly comes down to a host of characters related, befriended, or in rivalry. It is a composite of emotions and relationships that some may be bored by. However, those looking for a naturalistic film similar to work by Ibsen, Brecht or perhaps Mike Leigh, the film is a captivating watch.
In each of his films Asghar Farhadi gets the very best from his actors. Bérénice Bejo as the ex/mother/lover of the story is beautiful to behold on screen, in looks and in her composed or frenetic moments. Bejo may be the most glamorous of the ensemble, yet it is Ali Mosaffa who is the shining star. Mosaffa is every essence of his character – calm, collected and compassionate bringing warmth to the colder elements of the story. He eases both the turbulent family and the anxious audience through the drama. Farhadi has continually shown a favoritism for the subdued people/those who control their lives through deliberation. The Ahmad character is his best example of this yet, and he couldn’t have asked for a better actor than Mosaffa to take it on.
As if the two leads weren’t enough to help the film sail to victory, the ever-wonderful Tahar Rahim joins as Bejo’s lover. Rahim has less to do here but the “less is more” mantra fits his part – Rahim’s great facial/expression acting comes to the forefront of his role here due to his fewer lines. The last talking point for the film’s acting acclaim are the three children. Each are bound for success and never once break the realism or maturity of the piece with their fewer years’ experience in the profession.
As mentioned, the film is elegantly composed in its entirity. It is demanding at points – with psychologies and motives regularly investigated – though continuously thought-provoking. The last act does meander into soap-opera/whodunit territory but never enough to question the overall value of the film. In sum, a humanistic tour-de-force further highlighting Farhadi’s greatness.
Le Passéwas competing in the Competition Selection at Cannes 2013 and won Best Actress for Bérénice Bejo. Also posted on LiveForFilms