Ever want to see what happens when a soap opera is written and acted incredibly well and squeezed into 2 hours rather than 50 years? Well, you’re in luck, because a little French-Italian-Iranian film called The Past (or Le Passé) has pulled it off
Set in Paris, our film focuses on 2 families, and all of them centre around the actions of a french woman named Marie Brisson (played by argentine-french actress Bérénice Bejo, who was the leading lady in the film The Artist). The first character we have is Ahmed (played by Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian man who has returned to France in order to finalise his divorce with Marie (then go back to Iran). Then we have Marie’s daughters, who were from a marriage before Ahmed (and who get along with him very well, including the oldest daughter Lucie, who is now a teenager). Then we have Samir (played by Tahar Rahim), an arab laundrette/laundromat owner who is dating Marie. With Samir, we have his close-knit family, including his very angry young son Fouad (the kid with the perm), and his actual wife…a woman who is in a coma, and might not wake up. So what do these characters want? Marie is just trying to live her life, despite how destructive her choices have been. Ahmed wants the divorce finished so he can go home and start a new life. Marie’s daughter, Lucie, doesn’t approve of her Mum’s relationship with Samir and wants to her to break it off. Samir is torn between letting his wife die and starting a new life with Marie’s family and Fouad or waiting to see if she’ll wake up. And lastly, Fouad just wants his Mum back and doesn’t accept Marie as a new mother figure.
My…goodness…What acting. What phenomenal acting. Every performance, including that of the children, was brilliant. Even in the simplest of scenarios, you can feel tension, as if everybody is trying to keep the peace in the situation. Actions or things said by 1 character could absolutely infuriate another character or make them incredibly uncomfortable, and you can sense it, but you also know that everybody is trying to remain diplomatic (except for Fouad). The quality of performance is exactly right. Nobody was over-the-top (it’s not that kind of movie), and when characters finally do snap, it becomes a highlight of the film (Think Michael Corleone in Godfather 2). As you gathered more and more information about what was actually going on, it begans to feel more and more like a psychological horror movie set in the everyday and mundane…where you know that a nightmare is unfolding, and it’s just a matter of time before somebody does something to try and either change it or wake up.
The characters…the best way to describe them is that they’re basically real people trying to live their lives. Nobody is particularly inspiring to the audience, with the possible exception being Ahmed, who is the real outsider of everything that’s going on between these 2 families (He’s Mr. Exposition. It’s explained to him, and he pieces it together). Marie is a very complicated character. Her choices would make a lot of enemies, while at the same time you know that she’s not a happy woman, and she is trying her best to make a pleasant existence…Hence, the name of the film. Everybody is trying to deal with the Past and the mistakes that are attached to it.
Is there any music in this film? Not really. There’s a little bit of Beethoven’s Les Adieux (Piano Sonata No.26 in Eb Major), but there is no original soundtrack to create any moods or additional character. Instead, the film relies on the story, acting and characters to drive that home.
The cinematography is simple, and everything is shot from the perspective that there is definitely a 3rd person in the room if there are 2 people in frame. There is nothing too fancy about it, but it works almost perfectly for this sort of film.
The setting could take place anywhere in the world, but setting it in Paris is a nice choice.
Would I recommend The Past? (No pun intended) Very much so. It’s not a film for anybody, and some might even categorise it as “Oscar Bait” due to it’s simple setting about people with real problems (turn up to 11 without breaking the glass ceiling in this case), but it is in fact a really good film that deserves a lot more than its $1,160,315 profit at the box office, and while it was nominated for numerous awards, Berenice Bejo at least walked away with the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been accused as being “Too French” to be an Iranian film when it was submitted as Iranian…that doesn’t stop it from being excellent. Everything feels organic and pretty gritty. It has no heroes or villains…just human beings who make interesting decisions. I saw it on Netflix, and if you’re subscribed, I would highly suggest you check it out.