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« Meanwhile in Venice... | Main | TIFF: Boogie Nights Revisited as Radio Show »

TIFF: Asghar Farhadi Returns With "The Past"

Weirdest Cannes best actress win"

Nick whispered to me as the end credits unspooled on Asghar Farhadi's The Past. Co-sign. It's not that Berenice Bejo, who was charming in her international breakthrough in The Artist, is not a good actress and she's certainly a beauty. But at least in the context of The Past she's a blank one. Despite the plethora of information writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) keeps sending us -- e-mails are an enormous plot point -- I'm still waiting to hear anything substantial about the character of Marie, Bejo's woman at its center.

Yes yes, we learn that she still loves her ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), has troubles with her teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet, wonderfully cast) and is cagey about her new relationship to Samir (Tahar Rahim). But we learn all of this very quickly in the movies promising opening scenes in which Marie picks up her ex-husband from the airport and brings him home rather than to a hotel room he asked for. 

But after that... what else?

Farhadi has quite a lot else in store for us... though strangely what seems to take precedence is the intricate minutae of its plot, rather than the characterizations. It's not that we learn nothing about the characters exactly, but that they seem to be serving the intricacies of its many twists rather than the other way around. Like Farhadi's recent masterpiece A Separation, we return again and again to the same seemingly tiny event, although this one is offscreen, and its enormous ripples. To be fair to Berenice we do learn two more thing about Marie. First, she's a bit of a dramatic queen and pushes situations and conversations past their natural end point until they reignite or explode. Second, and long delayed... that she is guilt-ridden about her relationship with Samir without realizing it. But it's too little too late for a film that overextends its welcome and pushes its luck with its intended cartographic drama.

Marie between her men. She does this to herself.

When your favorite touch in a hotly anticipated movie by a brilliant director is the subtle dynamism of its title card ("The Past" is erased by windshield wipers as the ex-lovers are reunited in the opening scene) and the thing you relate to most visually is the endearing confused scowl on a young actor's face (Elyes Aguis is just superbly natural as Fouad, Samir's son) something has gone quite wrong. Thanks to a fine turn from Mossafa, Ahmad the exhusband, is the film's most interesting and well defined character. The movie suffers considerably whenever he (wisely) steps out of his place in this quiet heavy love triangle. Three may be a crowd but Marie and Samir are too blandly conceived to carry the film's heavy heart and complicated plot on their own. C

Podcast a group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz, our favorite films, and more
Ambition & Self Sabotage on Gravity and Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her
Mano-a-Mano Hallucinations Norway's Pioneer & Jake Gyllenhaal² in Enemy
Quickies Honeymoon, Young & Beautiful, Belle
Labor Day in a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastain at the Eleanor Rigby Premiere
August Osage County reactions Plus Best Picture Nonsense
Rush Ron Howard's crowd pleaser
Queer Double FeatureTom at the Farm and Stranger by the Lake
Boogie Nights Live Read with Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings: Child's Pose, Unbeatable and Isabelle Huppert in Abuse of Weakness 
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto. Two unsightly Oscars

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Reader Comments (7)

Lol. Marion Cotillard must have been PISSED to lose Actress to this then. Still excited to see it. Even a minor work from a genius is always welcome.

September 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

This film spoke to me and moved me in so many ways, but then I had just had a friend drink a bottle of bleach and almost die and my stepmother who I brought with had an awful relationship with her mother - so it was possibly close to home hence me appreciating and understanding the film- I agree however weird best actress win :(

September 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMorganisaqt

Really? I'm really looking forward to it. Regarding the Cannes win, I recently saw Cal and all I can say is that the jury was overgenerous with Helen Mirren.

September 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue: Ha! She won for Madness of King George too, which is also perhaps overgenerous. And I adore Marie-Josée Croze, but I'd name her as the strangest Cannes actress win. (The Past unseen.)

September 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I loved A Separation, but I wasn't too keen on this.

September 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Aw, I think you're being a bit harsh on Bejo. True the plot overload doesn't do her any favours but I thought she had a vivid (and pretty coherent) presence. I wouldn't argue that the performance is Best Actress material (I would argue that her work in The Artist was even less so). But I thought she was very good.

I liked the overall film a tiny bit more than you did, but I certainly understand where you're coming from, and agree with the points you raise.

September 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

A Separation is probably on my "Top Ten Movies of all time" list. Whatever movie Farhadi makes, I believe, no matter how big, will always be overshadowed by A Separation...and The Past is no exception.
The plot's quite interesting, replete with little stories surprisingly uncovered as we move on into the film. Yet, nothing like those of A Separation in terms of the complexity and relatedness of the issues dealt with within a single cinematic work.
Still, nothing short of a masterpiece.

September 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMehdi

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