The Past reaction: Cannes 2013

Showing in competition, domestic drama The Past is the follow-up to Oscar-winning A Separation by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. A devastating tale of secrets, lies and scalding, squirm-inducing truths, it will surely feature come awards time.

Set in Paris, it sees Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) return from Tehran after a four-year absence to sign the divorce papers on his marriage to Marie ( The Artist ’s Berenice Bejo), a French woman who balances motherhood with a job in a pharmacy.

Marie lives with her new boyfriend Samir ( A Prophet ’s Tahar Rahim), his young son and her two daughters, one a child and the other, Lucie (Pauline Buret), a teenager who’s ‘acting out’.

After initial resistance, Ahmad agrees to take up residence in the house for a few days in order to spend time with his step-daughters, and soon finds himself acting the eye of a veritable shitstorm.

Samir, it transpires, is married, his wife in a coma. Lucie nurses a terrible secret. Samir’s young son wears a permanent frown and tries to run away.

Acting the mediator, Ahmad is inexorably drawn into the conflict, not least because a host of unresolved issues arise between himself and Marie.

Fluently shot and lit naturalistically, The Past avoids a touristic approach to Paris as it places the protagonists in humdrum environs, Mahmoud Kalari’s camera more interested in faces and body language as the drama plays out.

Favouring scalpel-sharp cuts and in favour of long takes, the editing further conveys the fragmentation of this abrasive family unit, with many conversations switching between one-shots rather than placing the characters in a single frame.

Performances, across the board, are dazzling and fearless, and Farhadi’s script juggles the ensemble with dexterity, ensuring no one is side-lined, no reasons unexplained.

It’s a tough film, certainly, but one that will continue to elevate Farhadi’s place in world cinema, excavating painful truths in a manner that recalls Bergman, Cassavetes, Fassbinder et al.

And, crucially, it is not without tenderness, the final shot offering a glimmer of hope while refraining from outright sentiment.

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