Friday, December 20, 2013

Asghar Farhadi's THE PAST proves even better than his 2011 Oscar-winning A Separation....

What a fine filmmaker is Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian fellow who two years ago gave us the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner, A Separation, and is now back with an even better movie called THE PAST. For movie-goers who appreciate thoughtful, complex films about subjects eminently worth their time, you cannot do much better than Farhadi. This filmmaker's cool but intense style, choice of crackerjack actors, and -- most important of all -- ability to translate his ideas into fine, fierce dramas about how we live now results in films that resist melodrama at every turn and so remain utterly real and so believable that you are forced inside the mind and soul of each of their main characters.

That last and very great ability of Farhadi (shown at left) is what will make you hang on every word, every expression on his actors' faces, and as the story unfolds -- quietly but suspensefully, with a continual unfurling of events and motives, together with small but vital surprises that always make sense even as they enlarge your understanding what is going on -- you will have many of your preconceptions about these people, who they are and what they are doing, challenged.  I can't begin to tell you how rewarding the experience is.

The story begins as an estranged husband (Ali Mosaffa, above, right) and wife (Bérénice Bejo, below, right, and above, left) meet at the airport, he returning to Paris from Iran, where he was originally from, to sign a set of papers agreeing to a divorce so that she can marry the man she is now in love with. Soon we meet that man (Tahar Rahim, below, left), his young son (Elyes Aguis)...

...and the two daughters of the wife (from a marriage that predates both men), the older of whom (Pauline Burlet, below) is extremely fond of her step-father and is now estranged from her mom.

All these characters come to enormously full life, and we grow to care and hope for them, as well as understand the guilt that each of them experiences. "It is far too easy to simply say you're sorry," notes the father to his young son. And indeed, apologizing is something that is done often throughout the movie. The guilt here is plentiful, though not always as fully deserved as even the guilty might imagine, and as we explore why this is so, the movie simply becomes richer and deeper.

The acting is of a very high level in which each actor does what is called for without undue embellishment. The writer/director keeps a close hand on what he allows his actors to communicate, and us to see and hear, and so the experience becomes a particularly careful one, yet not at all circumscribed. The movie keep rolling outward, right up to and including its magnificent finale.

In fact, this is a better movie than the excellent A Separation because, this time, the filmmaker doesn’t unduly withhold vital information, yet his film still proves suspenseful and fascinating throughout. And there may be no one working today who manages the complexity of motives better than Farhadi.

I hope have said enough -- without giving away any of the surprises -- to send you out to view this extraordinary work, one of the year's best -- maybe the best -- film I have seen so far. The past, as so many of our writers have told us, never disappears. Yet there is a future. The negotiation of that road from the one to the other is what fascinates Farhadi and what he brings to such immediate, compelling life.

From Sony Pictures Classics,  The Past opens today, Friday, December 20, in New York City (at Film Forum and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal) and in the weeks to come will roll out across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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