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May 21, 2013

Cannes Film Festival Review: The Past

by Stephanie Dawson

Friday in Cannes was all about The Past, the new film by Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, 2011).

After a four-year separation, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa, The Last Step, 2012) returns to Paris from Iran to complete divorce proceedings at the request of his French wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo, The Artist, 2011). During his brief stay, Ahmad reconnects with Marie’s two daughters, from a previous relationship, with whom he bonded during the marriage. He learns that Marie has a contentious relationship with her teen daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet, La vie en rose, 2007). Ahmad also learns Marie is in a serious relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet, 2009). Ahmad’s visit unearths scars and secrets that leave each character stuck between holding onto the past and looking toward the future.

Farhadi has turned in another masterpiece—a family drama with layers of human truth intricately woven into the fabric of honest storytelling. In the first scene, Marie sees Ahmad at the airport and tries many times unsuccessfully to flag him down. Once she has his attention, they speak from opposite sides of thick glass and cannot hear each other. Already in that scene Farhadi represents Marie’s inability to connect with Ahmad (a tacit reference to his leaving, causing their separation) and the couple’s inability to communicate, no matter how hard either tries.

Each scene reveals more insight into past and present, compelling the viewer to care for each character on her or his individual terms. Right and wrong, the victim and the aggressor, remains fluid as it unfolds. Even the young children have elements in their past that guide their actions and make the decisions of the adults all the more significant. The acting is brilliant—never melodramatic; it’s almost underplayed. The lighting and visuals complement this minimalist, truthful style. The director chose to set the film in Paris, but rests the locale in the suburbs, away from the glitz or clichés of The City of Light, further grounding the characters as real people. The only flaw occurs in the third act when one turn of events is slightly far reaching, but the film is brought home with a touching last scene, and even the last frame leaves the audience clutching its collective chest. The Past is a serious contender for the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’Or, because it truly explores the complexity of many aspects of the human experience very simply and honestly.

Limité Rating: 5/5


Director: Asghar Farhadi

Screenwriters: Asghar Farhadi, Massoumeh Lahidji (adaptation)

Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa

TRT: 130 min.


The 2013 Cannes Film Festival runs from May 15 – 26 in Cannes, France.

Follow Limité Senior Film Contributor Stephanie Dawson and her personal exploits in Cannes on her blog,

posted by: Stephanie Dawson
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